Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


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Why a “Budding” Neuroscientist Is Skeptical of Brain Scans

After reading her perceptive essay about the problems in fMRI imaging in neuroscience, I’m sad that a gifted student has doubts about a career in the field

Kelsey Ichikawa has just published a superb essay about the pitfalls of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the brain. Ms. Ichikawa (pictured), who describes herself as a ”budding” neuroscientist who graduated last year from Harvard, discusses the snares into which misinterpretation can lead us. fMRI brain scanning is a relatively new technology in which researchers and clinicians use magnetic resonance images (MRI) of the brain to detect brain activity almost as it happens. The technique is widely used, both for clinical care of patients (neurosurgeons use it to map sensitive parts of the brain prior to surgery) and for research purposes. A major thrust of neuroscience research in the last couple of decades has been the use of fMRI…

Medical tablet displaying cerebral activity

Why Are Some Scientists Turning Away From Brain Scans?

Sometimes, brain scans just sound like popular opinion. What's wrong?

Brain scans have brought us many benefits, including the discovery that people (or rats for that matter) can function normally without most of their brain. Without such scans, there was no way to be sure. But, as with any technology, there are problems: Studies of brain images have suggested that Republicans and Democrats have visibly different thinking, that overweight adults have stronger responses to pictures of food and that it’s possible to predict a sober person’s likelihood of relapse. But such buzzy findings are coming under growing scrutiny as scientists grapple with the fact that some brain scan research doesn’t seem to hold up. Such studies have been criticized for relying on too few subjects and for incorrectly analyzing or…

Tablet displaying scan of brain activity

Brain Scans Can Read Your Mind—in a Dozen Conflicting Ways

A recent study involving 70 research groups identified sharp limitations in the value of brain imaging (fMRI) in understanding the mind

In the 1990s, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) — imaging the brain in action via blood flow—seemed like a dream come true. Medical and social science researchers who flocked to use it are not going to be happy with a recent study of its limitations: There was little meaningful agreement among seventy research teams from around the world about what their results meant. In an article aptly titled “Seventy Teams of Scientists Analysed the Same Brain Data, and It Went Badly,” a neuroscientist fills us in: The group behind the Nature paper set a simple challenge: they asked teams of volunteers to each take the same set of fMRI scans from 108 people doing a decision-making task, and use them…

Independent Thinking

Michael Egnor on Whether People in Comas Can Think

If you’re in a coma, can you still think? Some fascinating neuroscience research sheds light on the brain function of those in comas. Robert J. Marks and Dr. Michael Egnor discuss comas, brain function, and types of thought. Show Notes 00:29 | Introducing Dr. Michael Egnor, Professor of Neurosurgery and Pediatrics at State University of New York, Stony Brook 00:58…