A metaphor for fMRI studies of thought?

A new study contains a poetical phrase that maybe, just maybe, is a metaphor for the severe difficulty and beauty of a great scientific quest: learning how the heck the brain manages to think.

Many brain scientists use a complex technology called  “fMRI” (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to make rough pictures of activity (many sorts of activity — chemical, electromagnetic, etc.!) that are happening in the brain at a particular instant. Many of those fMRI-wielding scientists think that these pictures can hint at — and maybe even explicitly tell them — how thinking actually happens. The new study is:

Everyday conversation requires cognitive inference: Neural bases of comprehending implicated meanings in conversations,” Gijeong Janga, Shin-ae Yoon, Sung-Eun Lee, Haeil Park, Joohan Kim, Jeong Hoon Ko, Hae-Jeong Park, NeuroImage, vol. 81, November 2013, pp. 61–72.

The authors, at Yonsei University, Seoul National University, and Myongji University, in Seoul, Korea, use a phrase that — we suggest — can be lifted from its original context, to become a metaphor. Here is this metaphor for fMRI-based studies about thought:

“suggests its competence for integrating distant concepts in implied utterances”

BONUS: With that metaphor in mind, contemplate additional detail from the new study:


(Thanks to investigator Neil Martin for bringing this to our attention.)