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Handling Digital Brains

A Laboratory Study of Multimodal Semiotic Interaction in the Age of Computers

Morana Alač

Publication Year: 2011

An analysis of how fMRI researchers actively involve their bodies--with hand movements in particular--in laboratory practice.

Published by: The MIT Press

Series: Inside Technology

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xi-xii

This book reports on my walks through the laboratories of cognitive neuroscience that use functional magnetic resonance imaging technology as their primary mean of investigation. I am grateful to the inhabitants of those spaces who opened their everyday life to my visits: the cognitive neuroscientists at...

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1. In the fMRI Laboratory

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pp. 1-21

It is 2002, and we are in a cognitive neuroscience laboratory at the University of California, San Diego. There, we encounter two researchers seated in front of a computer screen (figure 1.1). One of them, the laboratory director, Paul (a professor with a distinguished record of publishing and teaching in the field...

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2. fMRI Brain Visuals as Fields for Interaction

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pp. 23-47

fMRI brain visuals are signs in a very straightforward sense: Cognitive neuroscientists observe the human brain and its processes by consulting its fMRI renderings. Alan Gross (2008: 281) has suggested that the character of fMRI brain visuals should be understood in terms of indexical signs. In his proposal...

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3. fMRI Brain Imaging and the Experience of Sound

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pp. 49-65

In cognitive neuroscience laboratories fMRI visuals are engaged in a multimodal manner. This multimodal engagement regards the bodily conduct involved in working and interacting with digital screens. fMRI practitioners do not only inspect brain scans by passively posing their gazes on the surfaces...

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4. fMRI Brain Visuals and Semiotic Bodies

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pp. 67-91

To continue to unpack the claim that digital scientific visuals are fields for interaction, this chapter focuses on semiotic bodies. The discussion is grounded in two excerpts from an interaction where the fMRI practitioners are involved in reading brain visuals as a part of work and apprenticeship activity. Whereas...

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5. The Semiotic Mind in the fMRI Laboratory

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pp. 93-120

Reconceptualizing fMRI brain visuals as fields for interaction has consequences for the understanding of thinking in the laboratory. The fMRI researchers’ skill to see certain concrete and spatially represented biological phenomena is not confined to an individual brain but is a gradual achievement that involves...

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6. Materiality of Digital Brains

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pp. 121-145

Rather than dealing with biological matter, fMRI practitioners spend long hours in front of computer screens working with “digital brains.” This allows them to engage with their experimental data in an embodied manner. Because fMRI scans function as Peirce’s iconic signs, they generate effects of similarity...

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7. Publishing fMRI Visuals

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pp. 147-158

Throughout this book I have been suggesting that fMRI visuals are fields scientists actively engage with, rather than pictures and images they simply look at. By foregrounding the human hands as essential elements of scientific visuals, I have described how, during data analysis sessions, fMRI visuals do...

8. Conclusion

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pp. 159-168


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pp. 179-193


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pp. 195-199

Image Plates

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pp. 214-215

E-ISBN-13: 9780262295475
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262015684

Page Count: 218
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Inside Technology