14 December 2008

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I'm remembering a psych class on perception at The Ohio State University during the late-80s. I read of researchers who (IMHO) tortured kittens from birth in the name of science. And by torture, I mean keeping them in complete darkness for the first several months of life.

Eventually, the subject would emerge from darkness -- harnessed into a strange scientific carnival ride. The thing was an enclosed carousel designed to present vertical black-and-white stripes to the poor kitty's fields of view. Of course, the kitten's brain was loaded with sensors -- wired through the skull -- so all the excitement could be recorded. The signals indicated an alternating pattern of black and white stripes -- stored physically in the cat's visual cortex. All kittys, we were assured, shook-off the effects of these experiments in just a few weeks and went on to "normal" happy kitty lives. ( r i i i i i g h t )

Several years ago, researchers demonstrated that cat vision is dominated by the edges and lines it sees. A formula was discovered and the signals processed from a cat's brain were used to generate this image on a nearby computer monitor:

The images along the top row are what the cat was actually seeing.
The bottom row shows the processed signal from the cat's brain.

When I first saw the above picture, I shed all squeamishness harbored against these folks torturing kitties for science -and- had to admit, this was pretty damn cool stuff. OK -- So all of that is amazing enough, but now I'm presented with the following image:

Japanese scientists presented the letters in the top row to human subjects, then used an MRI and some fancy math to read their minds and recreate the bottom row on a computer screen.

So: Who's strapped to the carousel now?

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