October 27, 2012

"Then the machine turned on and began to let out a very annoying array of loud, high-pitched tones that then repeated, like a car alarm cycle."

At a recent conference in Sonoma, California, I met the novelist Reif Larsen.

Most of the conference attendees were architects and designers, but the speakers were from very varied fields. I showed how magnetic resonance imaging can reveal the functional organization of our brains, even when we are simply resting; he read from his amazing debut novel, "The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet."

I thought I saw a twinkle in his eye when Reif told me that he had learned about functional MRI for his novel. And, a few days later, I read this in Chapter 14, wherein the novel's 12 year old protagonist undergoes an MRI scan, the sounds of which remind him of a car alarm:
Then she told me to just lie there and think of nothing, although I of course thought of car alarms. I hope this did not screw up her data sets: she would unknowingly show an MRI of "Boy Contemplating Nothing" to her colleagues at a big conference when in fact it was actually an MRI of "Boy Contemplating the Terrible Nature of Car Alarms."

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