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Brain Scanning – Variables & Interpretation

The Twitter-verse has lately beat with a rhythm of regularity regarding fMRI, PET Scans and brain scanning in general.  (This new world precursor of things to come isn’t new.)  Each morning I see links to more articles, videos, etc. about how this technology continues to creep into the mainstream.  The prevalence lately, not only on the corners of the web I call home, but also in real life talking to several individuals engaged in some of these process, has made me wonder what’s going on now.

A combination of Star Trek, Brazil and 1984, the technology is a bit “brave, new world” – and while I can understand some of the benefits to mental health (if/when they ever get it to an objective level), there is, as with everything, a huge potential for abuse.  Right now, I’m not sure we are ready for it.  Although…it might have actually convinced my ex-wife there was a brain in there…but much like the concerns around mapping the human genome, I have concerns about what could happen down the line.

I mean, we are profiled, categorized and labeled regularly as it is – toss in the stigma associated with mental illness and I am wondering if we are approaching a potential digital scarlet letter (“C” for crazy of course, nothing so fun as an “A” for a fun roll in the hay).  And hey, the Director of NIMH, Thomas Insel, M.D., recently even blogged the technology wasn’t ready for prime time…so…


There exist a number of articles out there explaining the different technologies and processes used to map the gray jelly in our heads.  Wikipedia has an entry on Neuroimaging that touches on each technology.  If you want to take a historical view, there is an October, 18, 2005 article from the New York Times that provides a little insight.

But, bottom line – you have your head scanned and depending on the type of technology, end up with a 2D or 3D model of your brain.  Then, with some of the technologies, if you utilize the radioactive isotopes so blood flow can be monitored, then you can also see how certain thoughts or feelings manifest in the brain as well.  The challenge to this point has been creating a baseline for comparison.  See, surprise – all human beings are different, think different, and most likely feel different. Are there certain areas of the brain used in general, of course…but when I see “purple” and my ex-wife goes crazy screaming at me that it’s “blue” – you have an example of how perception and the processing of visual stimuli differs.  That is variable number one.

Variable number two – the way illnesses manifest themselves.  I am bipolar, but I’m not a delusional bipolar (not yet at least…there’s still time).  My hypomania doesn’t look the same as others I know with the illness.  And the depression – there are some givens when it comes to those dealing with the illness, but I haven’t killed myself, but I know those that have.  I don’t cry for days on end, but I know those that do.  I don’t lose the ability to speak, but I know those that do.


Let’s look at it like this…I have personal space issues…meaning I don’t want to be touched unless you have express permission.  A handshake, a clap on the shoulder, fine…but if you are a close talker, then take a step back.  And don’t call me “sweety” and then think you are getting a hug…seriously?  So getting me to slide into a machine so you can scan my brain? 

Scan for cancer, internal bleeding, tumors…awesome, go for it.  Those are either:  “yep, you got it” or nope, “you’re clear”.  Scan my brain, watch the blood flow and then there is a HUGE jump via interpretation – interpretation to be conducted by a “professional” probably more focused on the fact that their son came out of the closet that morning, his wife is eyeing the UPS guy (a lot of them are pretty cute I hear) or his mistress is demanding a larger apartment (this guys aren’t cheap, so they have the disposable income).

I’m not questioning the intentions of these people (well, maybe a little) but I’m saying “interpretation” can deliver different results on different days and if it is your interpretation of my brain that determines what meds I’m fed, what insurance I can or can’t get or what lists I end up on, then I’ve gotta pass. Kind of like Lasik – when my optometrist gets it done, I’ll believe it’s safe, but he’s still wearing glasses.  And that’s a physical thing, I’m saying prove to me the societal risks aren’t there, and we can talk.

You tell me…does Dr. Armen, in the video below, instill confidence?  Seriously, I learned a long time ago that anything sold on late night TV on those nights when insomnia is here for a visit isn’t really worth the money.  Add the fact that he uses Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven at the beginning of the video says just about all of it, then he starts talking…and well…you tell me? If you weren’t manic right now, would you be enticed?

NOTE: Stay Tuned for the Next Post on Brain Scanning – I’m Just Getting Started…..

One Response to “Brain Scanning – Variables & Interpretation”

  1. […] Brain Scanning – Insurance, Stigma and Potential Abuses Posted by BiPolarBedouin on Oct 21, 2010 in General Thoughts, Mental News | 0 comments NOTE: The first half of this post can be found here. […]

  2. Cam Crawford says:

    Came across your perspective and agree for the most part.. A lot of your writing and I share the same sentiment, concerns and even words.. Too many times I have had experiences with professionals that clearly don’t understand and are not going to try and understand.. also loved ones that offer to listen but are not capable of comprehension of some of the things I am often sorting through…

    We are hard to understand and we MUST do a better job showing the positive aspects of our different everything

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