Check your neuroskepticism

I have been increasingly skeptical of the value of brain imaging studies and the scope of what they can actually tell us. This report from the University of Pennsylvania and the Hastings Center is a nice counterpoint that's making me skeptical of my skepticism.

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  1. making me skeptical of my skepticism.

    I think that's the sign of truly intelligent people who can allow themselves to do that.

  2. I also thought that the neuroconsciousness folks - from Koch to Churchland - were getting out ahead of themselves. But over the last few weeks I've been reading "Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts" - https://smile.amazon.com/dp/B00DMCVXO0?tag=boing05-20 - and the results are pretty impressive. Even if image representation is tricky, the relationship between unconscious processing and consciousness is becoming much clearer thanks to some really cleverly-designed experiments.

  3. If there is doubt about the ability of fMRI to properly register brain activity, then they should be able to duplicate the experiments with FDG PET imaging which tracks glucose usage in the brain rather than oxygen (assuming that review boards still allow psych experiments that involve the radiation exposure of a PET scan).

    Perhaps the FUD about fMRI is just propaganda from Big Positron...

  4. Unfortunately, the temporal resolution of PET scanning isn't high enough to use it to verify fMRI in most psychological tasks.

    Here's a figure that compares them directly on temporal resolution: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v468/n7321/fig_tab/nature09569_F1.html
    Or alternatively, page 4 of this document: http://www.bus.umich.edu/neuroacrp/Yoon/Huettel.pdf has an even more detailed figure comparing spatial vs temporal resolutions of a larger number of neuroimaging techniques.

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