Since the first one was warmed up and a patient was tossed inside in the summer of 1977, the Wonder Machine (those of you new to this blog, the Wonder Machine is another, catchier name for functional magentic resonance imagine, or fMRI) has proven its worth as non-invasive means of peering inside the human body. Once neurologists realized that the machine could be used to unlock the secrets of the working, unsedated human brain, the news was like word the college president had slapped down his school-funded Amex on the cash bar at a faculty mixer; researchers from every imaginable discipline of social science flocked to it.
The MRI has proven useful in the fields of:
- Economics -- We buy jumbo TVs, SUVs, cheeseburgers, hybrid adjustable rate mortgages and lotto tickets because we're stupid and our brains tend to oversimplify things
- Philosophy -- MRIs definitively answered Immanuel Kant's question of altrusim -- proving there's no such thing as an unselfish act
- Theology -- MRI scans showed that brain activity during religious experiences bears a suspicious resemblance to epilepsy
- Anthropology -- MRIs determined men look at pictures of sexy women the same way they do tool they want to grab and manipulate
- Sociology -- MRIs show "pure disgust" and "indignation" (disgust with morals attached) are different (sociology hasn't gotten quite a handle on how to best use the MRI)
- Psychology -- take your pick
- Criminology -- MRIs have shown promise in supporting a Minority Report-like police state
I've put so much faith, even fear, into the capabilities of MRI that I find this both distressing and relieving. It turns out, however, that MRI technology isn't flawed -- wait, actually it is. MRI separates the area scanned into such granular detail that neurologists and technicians have known for decades that if you look long enough something will turn up. They've also come to use a method of vetting information through mathematical probability called Gaussian random field theory. The problem is, not everyone uses this theory or any method of sorting out the data returned by a scan, especially when headlines and funding are at stake. I am a bit comforted by this. It's not the MRI at fault, it's the human researcher using it. Humans are flawed; I already knew that. It does make me much warier of using MRIs as lie detectors than I already was, though. Much warier.
Thanks for the link, Ugh.