Freelance writer Mark Harris was picked up at the San Diego airport and whisked away to a nondescript industrial park just north of the city, where he was ushered into what seemed to be a typical MRI clinic. On the walls of the waiting room hung pictures of brain scans, but his hosts weren't hunting for tumors or aneurysms. They were looking for the truth.
For the past decade, researchers have been investigating the possibility that telling a lie causes telltale activity in certain parts of the brain and that a special type of MRI scan might be capable of detecting the deception. Harris was eager to test that possibility firsthand, and No Lie MRI, one of two companies now providing such services on a commercial basis, offered him the opportunity.
"It was like something out of a science-fiction movie," says Harris, who was eager to discover for himself whether the procedure could really read his mind. But when he looked around and saw the many warning signs about the dangers of mixing metal and the high magnetic fields that MRI scanners generate, he began to have some second thoughts. "I knew I had a mouth full of metal—from eating too many sweets as a kid—and the thought flashed across my mind that maybe the British dentists who had worked on my teeth used a different sort of amalgam, one with a magnetic component." The technician assured him, however, that the MRI machine wouldn't accidentally yank a molar out of his jaw.
Whether it could pull the truth out of him was a different story, one that Harris tells in his feature article, "Liar!" in this month's issue.