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Generating Text From Functional Brain Images 82

Med-trump writes "Can you get a text output of your thoughts? Princeton scientists show that it is possible to generate text about the mental content reflected in brain images. The paper published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience describe the functional magnetic resonance imaging method used to identify areas of the brain activated when study participants thought about physical objects such as a carrot, a horse or a house."
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Generating Text From Functional Brain Images

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  • Interesting (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Psychotria ( 953670 ) on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @09:35PM (#37271538)

    For me, reading the article immediately brought to mind the argument as to whether thought is a function of language, or whether language is a function of thought. I think that it's perhaps the latter, but that might only be true for abstract ideas (I don't know... I've never read any philosophy or studies on this, but I have pondered it in idle moments on occasion). Do thoughts rely on language at any point? Do the abstractions rely or draw upon language? And if so, are the thoughts of a non-English speaker "different", in some way, to the thoughts of an English speaker? (I'm just using English as an example -- don't read anything more into it than that). Perhaps egocentrism is something to think about as well. An example that comes to mind is the concept of time (see here [], here here [], and also the Aymaran language []. I wonder how this "conversion" from thought/abstractions to language/description/communication really works.

  • Re:Interesting (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Baloroth ( 2370816 ) on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @10:14PM (#37271718)

    It's pretty complex and no one really agrees. However, I've studied quite a lot of philosophy and from what I remember (this subject came up but wasn't dealt with all that extensively) abstract thought does rely on language, as does logical (organized) thought to some degree. Time would be a decent example. Even without language, we would certainly have some concept of time because it isn't solely an abstract thing, but without language we wouldn't be able to think about it in the abstract or investigate many of its properties. For an example, try imagining space (empty space) without words. It's pretty hard.

    However, language is not necessary to thought itself. It is possible to create entire lines of reasoning without proceeding through the "voice in the brain" path, although this process is sometimes called intuition rather than thought (they are not the same). So for instance I might see in an instant that pushing a boulder off a cliff will block the approaching car and give me time to escape (for example), but the process happens so fast language doesn't even enter into it until I reflect on it later or need to talk to someone.

    Generally I think it is agreed that some concepts require words to be properly thought out, and that thought can be influenced by language (although that is another rather large debate), but thought itself doesn't require language. Take an abstract syllogism (i.e. every A is B, every B is C, therefore every A is C, aka a "Barbara" syllogism). Thinking of that (the formal syllogism without referring it to some real things) without words seems pretty nearly impossible (I believe it is). I can't even imagine how you would try. Of course it's still a pretty unanswered question how language and thought are exactly related.

  • Re:Interesting (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @10:23PM (#37271764)

    You're basically talking about Whorfianism AKA linguistic relativity []. Strong Whorfianism suggests that language has a deep restrictive influence on cognition (for example, speakers of a language which lacks temporal tense might have trouble understanding the flow and passage of time). Weak Whorfianism, on the other hand, suggests that the effects of language on thought are subtle, but not non-existent. Strong Whorfianism has essentially been discarded in modern linguistics, but weak Whorfianism is still the subject of research and interest.

    One interesting example of weak Whorfianism is color recognition. Speakers of languages with names for many colors are often more-easily able to distinguish between different colors than speakers of languages with fewer color names. For instance, English has "blue," while Russian has "" and "" (dark blue and light blue, respectively). The two Russian words for "blue" have no morphemes in common; they are completely different words for two different kinds of "blue." So there is no way to directly translate "blue" into Russian. I'm unsure if any studies on linguistic relativity have dealt with Russian and English speakers specifically, but if such a study yielded results similar to other studies, it would have revealed that Russians are better at distinguishing between shades of blue than English speakers.

  • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JordanL ( 886154 ) <> on Wednesday August 31, 2011 @10:31PM (#37271814) Homepage
    Another interesting aspect of the argument comes from experiential knowledge that people find difficult to think about or express in language. An example would be the experience some people have after emptiness meditation.

    Emptiness meditation involves stopping all conscious thought, as best you can. It could entail either shutting down the language centers of the brain, or shutting down the frontal cortex, I'm not sure, but after doing so what people often report is described as "understanding". A thought process that is outside of language, and in that way, outside of reality from the perspective of the subject. (This is why these experiences are often described as "transcendent").

    What I find interesting is that the process involves a method of thinking purely without language, but is described as "not thinking" or "stopping thought". So tied language is to our thoughts.

    One possibility I've heard before is that through essentially shutting down the frontal cortex, or at least having a different region of the brain "lead", the subconscious (not in the Freudian sense, but the non-thinking brain that is talked about in books like "The Power of Now" or "Blink") is allowed to both direct and utilize areas of the brain that it commonly does not. This experience could be perceived as either "true self", as some people report, or "conversation with God", as others do, as the process would be perceived differently depending on the person involved.
  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Thursday September 01, 2011 @12:17AM (#37272258) Journal

    If you haven't see this documentary [] yet, I highly recommend it - it's especially apt in the context of this article; maybe the neuro-interface augmentations really are coming faster than we'd think?

    (the game is great, too, by the way)

    Anyway, I'm signing up for proper eye augmentations as soon as those are available. Then we'll see...

When speculation has done its worst, two plus two still equals four. -- S. Johnson