Ray Kurzweil's Brain on Innovation

To see what's happening inside the brain of an innovative entrepreneur, we asked the McLean Hospital Brain Imaging Center, in Belmont, Mass., to do a functional MRI (fMRI) of Ray Kurzweil's brain. Deborah A. Yurgelun-Todd, director of the center's Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory, and Staci A. Gruber, assistant director, had Kurzweil perform a routine task (reading aloud common nouns like blouse and razor) and then asked him to come up with novel uses for those words. For instance, Kurzweil suggested "building a cabin" for blouse and "decorating" for razor.

In the three-dimensional images pictured here, Yurgelun-Todd and Gruber explain, the green areas are the parts of Kurzweil's brain that were activated during the routine tasks, and the red areas are the parts of his brain that were activated during the innovative tasks. Some of the specific brain regions that sprang into action when Kurzweil was thinking outside the box: the dorsal anterior cingulate, which lies in the frontal lobes deep inside the brain, just above the band of fibers that connect the two hemispheres; the back part of the parietal lobes; and the right cerebellum, a cauliflower-shaped structure that lies at the base of the brain.