New advances in scientific technology are continuously happening although a certain amount of caution has to be taken when trying to look into peoples’ minds regarding ethical considerations as these techniques could prove invasive and also as mentioned in the article there are many aspects of this new technique to be worked on (e.g. distinguishing between passing thoughts or actual intentions).
The article suggests an advance on the current evidence from brain scanning and imaging techniques and on any other technique used to investigate the brain.
Thought occurs before behaviour and sometimes so fast we are not conscious of it. The new technique attempts to detect thought-patterns and predict behaviour before it occurs.
The technique in the article seems to suggest a way of overcoming this by revealing a new technology that refines an existing brain imaging method called functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI.
The addition of a computerized new software capable of finding patterns of different thoughts as they occur together with fMRI that shows the structure of the brain is an intriguing advantage in neuroscience but to read peoples’ minds would be both ethically wrong – unless well justified – and a bit ambitious.
Comparing current techniques for investigating the brain with the new technique the most similar examples are the EEG or electroencephalogram, PET scanning and DBS or deep brain stimulation with the use of microelectrodes.
The brain generates electricity and the quantity varies with its activity. It is possible to record this electrical activity and turn it into brain-waves with the help of a computer. In the case of EEG electrodes are attached to the scalp. They can be used to detect tiny voltage changes and these signals are amplified and fed into a computer where the electrical signals can be accurately timed. This technique is used to investigate many cognitive processes.
The computerized translation of brain activity here is similar to the new technique but it does not help with penetrating the brain for deeper analysis.
Both techniques gather activity patterns and look for and select the most frequent ones. Also both of them uses a computer to translate the patterns but the new technique seems to take it a step further.
Using microelectrodes in deep brain stimulation to map the function of some localized area of the brain it is possible to record the electrical activity of small groups of calls or even individual neurons. Micropipettes or glass microelectrodes with fine tips are inserted into brain cells. This method can detect changes occurring in very short periods of time – in milliseconds. The new technique offers searching – without direct stimulation – for repeating patterns of electrical activity and relatively accurate translation of these patterns trying to decipher potential predictions of behaviour that can be useful (e.g. in prevention of crime). It combines the best existing high resolution method of brain imaging with computer recordings of electrical activity and the software turns all of the subtle changes in neuronal activity into predictions of thoughts.
A very similar technique to fMRI is PET scanning that can also reveal much about the workings of the brain when conducting particular tasks.
PET scanning reveals activity in parts of the brain, fMRI reveals structure.
This method presents images and in comparison to the new technique that is all it offers. fMRI also has many advantages over PET scanning: fMRI is capable of showing structure and does nor require dangerous substances to be consumed by the participants.
A PET scan produces images by requiring the participants to be injected with a radioactive substance. The areas of the brain that command the greater volumes of blood will produce the most gamma-rays and these areas will be displayed by the PET scan. Both PET scanning and fMRI compares a before, during task’ and after’ image.
As seen in the article the fMRI can identify activity in exact brain regions (e.g. medial prefrontal cortex) that can be related to for example thinking, decision making or intentions of doing something (e.g. lying).
Comparing these techniques the evidence from the article seems plausible and convincing enough.
The article gives an example of the swift neuroscientific advantages that take place widening our knowledge about the workings of the brain. Not one of these techniques in itself can reveal “what the brain thinks” but as seen in the example in the article when combining methods it opens up more possibilities.