Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Source Code

The movie Source Code played on my flight to Germany.  There were some great human factors implications from the basic plot line.

The plot revolved around the idea that when you die, your brain activity is stable for a few seconds and can be recorded.  They download this pattern of activation and are able to replay the last eight  minutes of the person’s life.  Like most movies, they take this way too far.  They upload the pattern into someone else’s brain and have that person relive the eight minutes.  That person can even change what the dead person did in those eight minutes (that’s the WAY overboard part).  But there are a few other smaller things that are more fundamental scientific falsities:
  • Memory is not like a camera.  It is more like an impressionist (think Picasso).  Looking at someone else’s Picasso wouldn’t be nearly as informative.  And it’s only what you are focused on, not your peripheral vision and not even what is in your direct view but unattended.
  • Knowing the pattern of activation in someone’s head is not the same as recording their episodic memory.  Everyone’s brain has different patterns and they are only mildly connected to the actual events that occurred in someone’s life.
  • The activation would last just a few seconds and cover just a few seconds of activation.  So if you are close enough to record the activation, you probably already saw the same thing(s) that the dead person saw.
 But I was thinking about what part(s) of this would/could be possible with some advances in technology. 
  • If you could download the person’s sensory cortex activity, and had previously used fMRI to map out what neurons correspond to what sensations, it may be possible to reproduce the person’s last sensations.  It would be completely uninterpreted though.  You would know green and red and square and salty were active, but not how they fit together.
  • If you could download the person’s amygdala activity and again had previously mapped it using fMRI, you could estimate approximately what emotions the person was feeling at the time of death.
But I think that’s about the best you could do.

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