Seeing What Others See: Real-Time Brain Scans and Virtual Reality

I’m back from my recent hiatus and planning to post more frequently.

A friend sent me a link to an article from the Toronto Star, reporting how real time brain scans create distorted images of what people are actually watching at that moment. Its kind of amazing. Though the representation is uncannily accurate, I’m struck more by the feeling of the images created from the scans. They convey (to me at least) how the person felt in the moment, the way brush strokes evoke the painter’s emotion while creating in a piece of art.

These scans take my brain for a spin with thoughts and questions. First, as the article mentions, I would love to know what my dreams look like to the outside world. Actually, I’d love to record them to know what I’ve missed out on, and replay the ones I remember to see if it brings them more clarity. But I wonder if they would give me, or anyone else viewing them the same feelings I experience initially in my dream state. Would they look like a movie? Or would they look like everyone is talking or acting to the camera? Would they even make sense, or appear in some disjointed narrative?

Second, I’ve always wondered if there are ways to use virtual reality to help blind people see. With new technology developing, especially in the gaming industry, it seems more possible every day. Is it possible to use technology to reroute the signals for what the eye takes in and relay it to the brain to register sight?

Finally, can we combine these technologies to get a sense of what people might actually feel walking through a 3 dimensional model of a building we (designers) propose? Could we model those spaces well before final construction documents, find out exactly what psychological impact our new buildings and urban areas have on the public, and therefore make design changes accordingly? Is this the next step forward for evidence-based design?

I hope we can, because it means as designers, we can ensure places meant to be healing or safe, make the public or users feel that way even before construction begins.

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