Neuron Culture

head on a platter

That’s my head, scanned by Joy Hirsch and Steven Thomas at Columbia University’s and then digitized, burned onto a CD and mailed to me. I mashed it through the lovely, open-source Mac program Osirix, which allows me to imagize my brain, which I’m finding much different than imagining it, though the former does call the latter into play. Makes your head spin.

This is just the outside of my head, of course, with only a bottom-up peek inside through an opening created when the MRI machine chopped and dropped my non-brain-containing parts. I’ll move inside in future posts as I peruse the data, guided by Hirsch and others, to see what these pictures — as well as an fMRI we took — say about my brain and mind.

But for now we just have this head, and we’re still stuck outside. Yet even this truncated exterior view hints at scanning’s strengths and weaknesses. The detail is impressive, even it it’s highi-contrast literalness, especially when combined with the digital shave — the Uncle Fester Effect — a bit unflattering. (At least I hope this is unflattering; I really do believe I’ve looked better. And let me here note for the record that that the wide, indented band across my forehead — which worried me when I first saw it — was created by the tape that snugly held my head still in the scanner. ) This unadorned look clarifies certain things. I’ve several times threatened to shave my head for Halloween, for instance, and my wife always stops me on the grounds that I would look too scary; now I see she’s right. And I’m glad I have hair, and I’m glad I have a lower jaw. FInally, I am amused and pleased to find that I can’t see at all in these pictures a bit of thickened bone under the skin at my forehead’s top left corner — an artifact of a childhood collision (I ran, I tripped, I split my head open on my parents’ bedframe) that I can easily feel with my fingertips. Palpation can still see things the scanner cannot.

Yet this scanner sees an awful lot — it’s strange, believe me, seeing your own head and brain like this — and in the weeks ahead, as I get help from Hirsch and others understanding the scans, we’ll take some more and better peeks inside.

Department of apologies and explanations:

Apologies for my long absence. I suffered not decapitation but a mudslide of work, coughs, colds, travel, car trouble, computer trouble, and then a trip to have my brain scanned. Add it up and you have a back-burnered blog. But I’m all better now, even if you wouldn’t guess so from my latest portrait.

Till nexttime …

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  1. #1 Hank Roberts
    November 30, 2006

    Osirix is truly wonderful. Some years ago I had a scan scheduled after a concussion, and asked what kind of blank media I should bring so they could save me a copy — magneto-optical 5-1/4″ there. I shelved it and waited; eventually Osirix came along. It handles the imagery fine.

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