New ways of seeing the living brain produce new understandings of the relationship between the body, the mind and the world around us.
Using advanced technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging, scientists locate the parts of the brain that are active when we feel pain, smell a rose, or read a book.
In experiments, volunteers perform tasks or respond to different stimuli while their brain is scanned to show which parts ‘light up’. This seems to support the idea that different functions are localized within particular areas.
The science of neuroimaging is still developing. It is not yet able to fully decipher the brain’s complex system of regions. Theories of localisation are attractive, but the brain is also embedded in the body. It is increasingly clear that many functions – particularly complex ones like religious experience or watching a movie – cannot be adequately described in such straightforward terms.