The patient sits on the bed, his head wrapped in thick gauze bandages. He looks his doctor in the eye and says, “You just turned into somebody else… You almost look like somebody I’ve seen before, but somebody different. That was a trip.”
No, 47-year-old Ron Blackwell hadn’t taken any psychedelic drugs. He wasn’t delirious or psychotic following the brain surgery he had recently undergone. Instead, he was responding to signals from electrodes implanted in his brain to help determine the source of his seizures. By coincidence, the test electrodes had been placed in his fusiform gyrus, the brain region involved in recognizing faces.
“Your nose got saggy and went off to the left,” Blackwell said, describing the changes he was seeing in his doctor Josef Parvizi’s face in a video released along with a new study. The research, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, was led by Parvizi, who is an associate professor of neurology at Stanford.
While having surgery to treat epilepsy, Blackwell agreed to take part in an experiment led by Parvizi aimed at understanding what the fusiform region actually does and how specific it is to recognizing faces.