Reconstructing Visual Memories from Brain Activity Using fMRI

An essay by Dr. Bertram Vu, as provided by Michael Goldstein
Art by Dawn Vogel


Data recorded in the visual cortices using fMRI technology can provide reconstructed visual images and video to within 95% similarity to what the subject actually witnessed. Even after an appropriate delay between witnessing the event and performing the brain scan, the images were able to be reconstructed with greater than 95% accuracy. This experiment provides a way to extract information from prisoners and enemies without the need for interrogation or torture techniques.



Accurately reconstructing what a subject has witnessed is a difficult task. For centuries, extracting information has relied on clever interrogation, pharmaceuticals, and brute force, or–in extreme cases–a combination of all three. Recently, human intelligence (hereafter, “HUMINT”) has relied on progressively gentler techniques. This is known as the “catching more flies with honey than vinegar” method. Despite an improvement in both the quantity and quality of information, its efficacy is still limited by human stubbornness and the natural uncertainty regarding witness testimony.

Despite the leaps forward in scientific progress in the last century, there is still a large gap between HUMINT techniques and available technology. In this paper, I present a new method for extracting information from subjects that eliminates the difficulties associated with subject willingness and the uncertainty of witness testimony.

Modeling dynamic brain activity is difficult, particularly when noninvasive methods are required or preferred. Currently, the best tool for noninvasive imaging is functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (hereafter, “fMRI”), which measures brain activity in real time by recording changes in blood flow. Blood flow in the brain is directly connected to neuronal activation, meaning that recording the hemodynamic changes within the brain gives direct insight into the areas of the brain in use.

This experiment took place in two separate parts using four different test subjects. The first part provided proof of concept, while the second was a full-scale test.


Reconstructing Visual Memories from Brain Activity Using fMRI

In both subjects, I was able to match the recorded local motion energy to one of the predicted models. This allowed me to reconstruct what the subject had seen with 95% accuracy, giving me the information desired without requiring the subject to cooperate.

Materials and Methods

For proof of concept, I placed two subjects in an fMRI scanner and recorded their brain activity while showing them six different high definition color videos. Each video was shown ten times to ensure proper encoding. The hemodynamics of the posterior and ventral visual cortices were encoded into voxels–three-dimensional versions of pixels that record volume, image, and position (in relation to neighboring voxels)–and given values for local motion energy and direction of flow.

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Winter 2016 collection.

Dr. Bertram Vu received his PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Vu is currently the Department Chair and a Principle Investigator of the Human Intelligence Development Group at Global Domination Solutions, Inc. He currently holds two patents for a portable fMRI machine.

Michael Goldstein dabbles in science fiction and is a gunner’s mate in the US Navy. He is also pursuing his degree in mathematics. Between all this, he somehow finds time for his very patient and very supportive wife, Ellie, and daughter, Avery.

Dawn Vogel has been published as a short fiction author and an editor of both fiction and non-fiction. Although art is not her strongest suit, she’s happy to contribute occasional art to Mad Scientist Journal. By day, she edits reports for and manages an office of historians and archaeologists. In her alleged spare time, she runs a craft business and tries to find time for writing. She lives in Seattle with her awesome husband (and fellow author), Jeremy Zimmerman, and their herd of cats. For more of Dawn’s work visit

“Reconstructing Visual Memories from Brain Activity Using fMRI” is © 2015 Michael Goldstein.

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