When Peterson scanned me, he found nothing wrong or worrisome. If I’d had a brain tumor or some prominent abnormality, he would have spotted it. But that’s about all the clinically useful information he could get from a quick scan. If Peterson had put me through the sophisticated scans he uses with the premature infants, perhaps he could have detected some quirk in the way my brain behaves. But because of the large variability in normal brain structure and function, he would not have been able to conclude much specifically about how my brain differs from those of other people.
In the coming years, however, as the technology continues to improve, it may become possible for any of us, with or without obvious illnesses or neurological problems, to learn much more about the state of our brains, our perceptions, and our thinking. “The bad news is that although these techniques are very powerful, they are not where we need to be,” says MIT’s Desimone. “We need to use these MRI magnets in ways they haven’t been used before.”
Desimone’s McGovern Institute has just inaugurated the Martinos Imaging Center. One room at the center houses a state-of-the-art MRI scanner. Beside it is another room that, for the time being, will remain empty. “We have it sitting there for a new device,” Desimone says. He doesn’t yet know what that device will be. “That’s our challenge – to invent it here. The idea is to go beyond where we are now, to the technology of the future.”
Paul Raeburn’s most recent book is Acquainted with the Night, a memoir of raising children with depression and bipolar disorder.