Brain Imaging and the Epistemology of Vision Daniel

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320 Brain Imaging and the Epistemology of Vision,brain imaging and the. epistemology of vision,daniel suarez s daemon,and freedom. N Katherine Hayles, A captured mercenary is being interrogated not by torture as. he expects but by an artificial intelligence asking him questions while. he is undergoing fMRI scans a technology explained below When. he refuses to give information the AI patiently goes through the al. phabet letter by letter quickly determining his name nationality and. language by the way his brain scans light up when the appropriate. letter is reached As his brain reveals information his consciousness. has withheld he is amazed at the technology s superiority and at the. end of the interrogation says in halting English I would like applica. tion Yes Is this the word evidently intending to switch allegiance. to what he thinks is bound to be the winning side Freedom 312. This scene from Daniel Suarez s Freedom plays out a scenario. already envisioned by the CIA that fMRI scans can penetrate the. ultimate veil of privacy one s inner thoughts Along with Daemon. Freedom s prequel Suarez s narratives show how fictions simplify and. distort neuroscientific results But the story is not as simple as mere. distortion for these same texts demonstrate that neurobiological. research can be recontextualized and embedded in narratives that. weave them together with other events to create a contemporary. fable chilling in its implications In this essay I explore the transfor. MFS Modern Fiction Studies Volume 61 number 2 Summer 2015 Copyright for the Purdue Research. Foundation by the Johns Hopkins University Press All rights to reproduction in any form reserved. Hayles 321, mations brain imaging undergoes as it moves from scientific journals. to popular science books to pulp fiction In Suarez s case fiction cre. ates metaphoric frameworks in which scientific results are embedded. in order to explore the larger implications of having human brains. imaged as if they were transparent while the software creating the. scans remains opaque The result is a dramatic shift in what counts. as reality and a vivid demonstration of the power of fiction to change. the terms in which we see the world,The Translational Power of Brain Images.
In the introduction to The Neuroscientific Turn Transdisciplinar. ity in the Age of the Brain Melissa M Littlefield and Jenell M Johnson. describe neuroscience as a translational 3 discipline for its ability. to travel into other fields Neuroeconomics neuroethics neurohis. tory all the neuros springing up carry into other disciplines not. only scientific results but also an epistemology particularly the idea. Joseph Dumit points out that the brain equals the person 233 40. It is precisely this idea that is both contested and explored in Suarez s. texts Another implication is that fMRI brain maps those colorful im. ages often touted in the popular media as showing the brain lighting. up or the brain thinking can be equated directly with behaviors and. functional processes As Susan Fitzpatrick cogently argues therein. lie possibilities for multiple interpretive errors 1. To understand why this is so we may find it helpful to review the. experimental arrangements generating those maps 2 The most fre. quently used fMRI technique is BOLD Blood Oxygen Level Dependent. BOLD essentially measures the ratio of oxygenated to deoxygenated. hemoglobin in the brain s blood supply Ogawa et al 447 48 More. precisely the nuclear MR signal changes as a result of changes in. the protons of water molecules in brain tissue and the blood which. vary as a function of hemoglobin oxygenation and blood volume. The technique assumes brain cells that are working hard become. oxygen depleted while those that are resting have plenty of oxygen. The differences being measured are very small less than 1 of the. brain s regional neuronal activity at rest The data appear as columns. of numbers which are then interpreted using statistical packages. which in turn generate the visualizations so striking in their effects. In the chain of inferences linking experimental data with claims. about behavior many errors may occur For example some research. ers may not fully understand the statistics their limitations and the. constraints on what governs them Sanders 16 20 Moreover the. colors used for the images are choices made by the researchers. 322 Brain Imaging and the Epistemology of Vision, and they frequently have nontrivial effects on how the images are. interpreted Perhaps the biggest source of interpretive error is the. formulation of the hypothesis to be tested which to be valid requires. a body of work that has already made a strong link between brain. regions the functions they control and observable behavior Fitz. patrick 188 In a study Susan Fitzpatrick cites for its faulty design. the researchers were attempting to measure the effect of charisma. on affective response using two groups one secular and the other. self identified strong Christians Each group was asked to listen to. interlocutors reading a prayer while having their brains scanned with. fMRI The believers showed a stronger response to an interlocutor who. was identified as a Christian known for his healing powers Fitzpat. rick 190 than to an interlocutor not explicitly identified as a Christian. while the secular group showed no such distinction These results. were interpreted as explaining the effects of charisma on affective. responses The problem Fitzpatrick notes is that there is no theory. for how charisma relates to brain activity The differences could be. accounted for in multiple ways including the fact that the two groups. have very different experiences with prayer for one it is a habitual. practice for the other a novelty The point is that interpretations of. brain scans require careful consideration of the experimental design. knowledge of previous research linking behavior and regional brain. activity accuracy of the statistical analysis and so forth While the. images themselves may appear seductively transparent nonexperts. and even research professionals who have not read the original article. should be very cautious about deciding what the images actually show. Judged by these rigorous standards it is almost trivial to dem. onstrate that Suarez s scene of interrogation is a fictional extrapola. tion not justified by the neuroscience of brain scans The technique. of going through the alphabet would probably not work for the. brain regions involved in recognizing letter sounds do not so finely. discriminate between letters that differences would likely show up. on an fMRI scan It is also possible that resting areas of the brain. may contribute to the subject s comprehension which would not be. revealed by a BOLD analysis Finally accurate interpretation would. require a strong theory of how memory and identification tasks are. related to regional brain activity which if such a theory exists is. not referenced by Suarez, Although lacking in scientific accuracy Suarez s fictions are. not without powerful insights Rather than showing a brain operat. ing on its own he depicts it embodied in a biological organism and. enmeshed in social technological economic and political milieus. These contextualizations bring to the fore issues rarely if ever men. tioned in fMRI research articles for example the economics involved. Hayles 323, in the infrastructure An fMRI machine costs between five and ten. million dollars with another 600 000 required to outfit an fMRI suite. and 500 000 for the software Moreover the cost of the electricity. required to operate the machine runs about 300 a day This means. that big capital is necessarily involved in fMRI research either through. grants hospital expenditures or other means This largely limits the. geographical distribution of the technology to rich countries which. in turn affects the hypotheses proposed for testing Also influential. one might argue is global geopolitics for example the CIA s interest. in fMRI as a means of interrogation and security threat assessment. which affects their willingness to fund certain research projects over. others Suarez locates his scene of interrogation within these larger. contexts He explores their implications by creating a metaphoric web. of connections that has as its center the trope dominating discussions. of brain imaging the map,Maps and Embedded Subjects. The appearance of the first map comes when Matthew Sobol a. computer game genius creates an automated program the Daemon. to be unleashed when Sobol dies its purpose is to bring about a radi. cal reconfiguration of the world order which begins in Daemon and is. completed in Freedom The Daemon is in charge of an online gaming. environment capable of connecting directly with the human senso. rium through special virtual reality VR glasses perhaps modeled on. Google Glass The VR environment hosts a number of gaming maps. including the online Over the Rhine and The Gate These games have. back doors that open onto a secret internet Suarez calls the darknet. 246 an encrypted browser like the real world browser Tor highly. resistant to government surveillance 3 Suarez imagines the darknet. as an alternative territory ruled over by the Daemon as sovereign. Repeatedly the Daemon affirms that the old order of nation. states is passing away The crucial difference between the Daemon. and a nation state is that the Daemon is a massively parallel and. geographically distributed artificial intelligence system much like the. internet itself Unlike a nation state it has no central point of control. no national capital that can be attacked no president or ruler who. has a unique identifiable position in space and time and who thus. can be assassinated corrupted or otherwise compromised Indeed. its distributed nature makes it more like a multinational corporation. than a national government albeit one ruled by an entity acting as. a sovereign rather than a board of directors Functioning as a deus. ex computer the Daemon begins to implement functions of a nation. 324 Brain Imaging and the Epistemology of Vision, state such as establishing a common means of exchange darknet.
credits modeled on bitcoins distinguishing between citizens and. aliens citizens have darknet IDs hovering over their heads visible. through the VR glasses establishing a system of reputation evalua. tions darknet citizens can rate one another based on their exchanges. similar to the rating systems used by eBay and other online sites. and building and deploying an army initially these are autonomous. automobiles autoM8s directed through wireless commands and. terrifying autonomous motorcycles razorbacks Daemon 399. equipped with vicious blades laser blinding capacities and vision. and audio sensors, At first self contained the Daemon s maps begin to intrude into. the real world Jon Ross working for the NSA discovers that Daemon. Factions create custom level game maps as bases of operations. and training We ve found some maps that match the floor plans. of real world structures and huge ones that model real world city. streets Daemon 373 When the virtual mirrors the real questions. of vision become highly charged For those who can see the darknet. IDs for example geophysical location is overlaid with the Daemon s. own virtual territory a lesson violently enforced when Loki a top. level Daemon operative infiltrates the NSA anti Daemon task force. and from within directs the violent attack on the NSA stronghold by. the razorbacks, What are the implications of creating a new kind of virtual. territory in which sovereignty is exercised To unpack this develop. ment s significance let us revisit the role of capital in the formation of. nation states Fredric Jameson has famously quipped that it is easier. to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. 73 Giovanni Arrighi tries to do just that in his account of the long. twentieth century arguing that the present arrangement of capital. ism marked by the ascendency of American transnational capital over. older forms such as British imperialism has already reached its signal. crisis for example the 2008 financial crisis and is nearing the end. of its hegemonic dominance Despite strong indications that such is. the case particularly the rise of China and global ecological crises. few novelists have undertaken the challenge to depict how such a. transformation might come about other than through ecological col. lapse or viral pandemic The problem seems to lie in the mechanisms. of world changing transformations how do we get from where we. are now to the new world order short of worldwide catastrophe. Suarez s answer is the creation of the Daemon Although there. is no evidence that Suarez read Arrighi Arrighi s analysis provides. the historical context to understand the kind of shift Suarez envisions. Arrighi s masterwork published in 1994 trembles on the threshold. Hayles 325, of a momentous realization the periodic transformations in world. economic systems are about to begin a new period of chaotic up. heaval followed by a global reorganization of systemic dynamics. Had it been published even five years later he might have foreseen. the tremendous growth of the web and factored it into his analysis. This scene from Daniel Suarez s Freedom plays out a scenario already envisioned by the CIA that fMRI scans can penetrate the ultimate veil of privacy one s inner thoughts Along with Daemon Freedom s prequel Suarez s narratives show how fictions simplify and distort neuroscientific results But the story is not as simple as mere

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