How many times have sci-fi shows inflicted this situation on us:
Character X: Oh my god I can read minds! And move things with my brain! And start fires! And I’m suddenly becoming hella smart!
Scientist character responsible for explaining things: Aha! Normally we only use 10 percent of our brains, but Character X is accessing the rest of his brain! Now s/he has super powers!
Me, watching: ARRGG!
Using even a pretty cursory knowledge of neuroscience, one thing is clear: We use our whole brain. We use different sections of it for motor control, for higher thought, for fight or flight reactions, and so on and so forth. When neuroscientists and their many colleagues test the brain to see which parts are doing what, they’re looking at the whole brain, not just 10 percent. So every time the meme pops up in even my favorite shows, I kind of go a little nuts. But I’ve always wondered: Where does this meme come from?
When Harry Kloor won the grant from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in 1997 to make a film about the upcoming Cassini-Huygens mission, he knew it would be over a decade in the making: Cassini wouldn’t begin to send back data until 2008 at the earliest.
It’s been worth the wait.
Since the probes started sending data back to Earth, scientists from JPL have been helping Kloor’s team turn it into the most accurate visual renderings of first few planets of the solar system anyone has ever seen. These reputedly amazing visuals will form the bread and butter of Quantum Quest, an animated, science-fiction, large-format film film that’s now been 12 years in the making.
Each rendering will be founded on contours developed from radar data, and then surfaced over with visual data, all merged together through CGI. And although the plot will feature a crew of talking neutrinos and photons taking a “solar safari” from the sun to Saturn’s moon Titan, all the space visuals, Kloor swears, will be real.
But unlike the real solar system, in Quantum Quest, there will be sound in space.
I finally got around to watching Torchwood: Children of Earth this weekend.
[MINOR SPOILER ALERT]
Wow. Bleak. Maybe I shouldn’t have watched all five episodes in one afternoon, but I haven’t been this depressed since Dark Knight. What happened to the randy, swashbuckling Captain Jack that we loved?
On the SciNoFi front though, Torchwood gives us the opportunity to revisit the topic of eyeball spy cameras, last seen in an episode of Dollhouse this spring. As Stephen noted in a post at that time, scientists have been working on plugging directly into the brain (in cats at least) to locate and interpret visual processing activity.
Interestingly, the Torchwood contact lenses appeared to be a much more basic technology: essentially small video cameras that could transmit images back to a laptop and also display text messages to the wearer.
Given how far we have to go in understanding the brain, a contact lens camera is probably a more straightforward and only marginally more detectable solution for this kind of surveillance. Eyeball sized cameras are already commercially available.