3d Brain layers vs Mona Lisa


Scientists have created a 3d map of the entire structure of a 65 year old woman's brain. They did this by taking 7400 slices of her brain, each only microns thin, and imputing them into a computer to render them in 3d. This is a breakthrough since it is the first time this has been done.

Or is it? I know of another woman who is 500 yo and another super computer that's accomplished  pretty much the same feat! - but potentially even more advanced since no computers or brains were involved. Her name is Mona Lisa and the supercomputer behind her creation was Leonardo da Vinci. Now you may be wondering what does a painting have to do with the scanning in thousands of layers of brain tissue and having computers reconstitute them in 3d?

 Good question!

Interestingly the very first idea I had that led me to research Leonardo and write a book about him and the Mona Lisa was: "The Mona Lisa is 3d"  3d?! That wasn't 'discovered' until the late 1800's! True, true. Air Planes, Contact Lenses, Automobiles, and anamorphosis were also things not supposedly discovered until around that time as well. Little did we know that Leonardo had conceived of these things over 500 years ago. His ideas were not published and were kept suspended in his cryptic notebooks.

When we read them today we realize how far ahead of his time he really was. 

"..he was like a man who awoke too early in the darkness, while the others were all still asleep." - Freud

He invented many futuristic things and he called this "Pre-Science" 

"Science is the observation of things possible, whether present or past. Prescience is the knowledge of things which may come to pass, though but slowly." -Leonardo 

He made epic and unprecedented advances in both anatomy and art. He dissected over 10 bodies and created renderings of them that rival mri machines. He also perfected a painting technique called "Sfumato" which is essentially  painting in layers of imperceptible paint, some of which is clear, that is thought to add a "smokey effect" *Sfumato means smoke* to his paintings.

So what does that have to do with slices of brain being used to render a 3d model? Well, you have to imagine that da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa in almost the exact same way. She is not just a flat painting with a single layer of paint, or even dozens - but thousands if not hundreds of thousands! Some of the layers of paint are micros thin and smaller than a human hair! Did he spend almost 20 years painting and covering, and painting, and covering the same portrait just to achieve a "smokey" effect? Or is there another reason?

"If you will cut an onion through the middle you will be able to see and enumerate all the coats or rinds which circularly clothe the center of this onion.

Similarly if you will cut through the middle of the head of a man you will fist cut the hairs, then the scalp, then the muscular flesh and pericranium, then the cranium; and inside, the dura mater,; the pia mater and the brain; then again the pia mater and dura mater and the rete mirabile and then the bone, their foundation."

So the Mona Lisa is, relatively speaking, thick. The best way to think of it is that she isn't a single piece of paper but an entire book. Each page in the book in a layer of paint in the same way that each slice of brain is a single layer of the entire brain.

X-Ray of the Mona Lisa's Face

Riusuke Fukahori uses this same type of technique in creating 3d art work. He paints in layers or resin, and in each layer he builds up a 3d image of objects. Imagine it's like placing a sculpture of figurine inside a clear glass of water. Now imagine that instead of water you you use transparent paint for the water - and then colored paint for the object inside. You start at the bottom you work your way to the top. Adding both clear and colors and eventually these layers add up to be a final 3d image. This 3d image is made up of layers, slices of paint. Ta da! You made something 3d with 2d layers.

The Mona Lisa was painted using a similar technique. Leonardo used a succession of thousands upon thousands of layers of both clear and colored paint. You could think of her as a painted sculpture. This is essentially 3d, but, since it is man-made (genius made) it can contain more than that.

So why go through so much effort to create a portrait of a woman? She looks a little more magical and mysterious - yes. But what about the thousands of layers that are covered up by the subsequent layers? That can't be seen? Why paint what can't be seen with the naked eye?

Well, lets imagine the woman's brain used to create the 3d representation. If you were to look at it pre-slicing you would only be able to see it's surface. It's not until you cut it open that you can see within it. Now if you imagine that the brain itself was some-what transparent - like a snow globe, you could see inside of it, but what about the layers you are looking THROUGH? (to see it  - the water in a snow globe)

 Lets make it clearer. Imagine that a book and it's pages are printed on transparency paper/film. So when you look at each page you can see through it, but the page behind it is blocked by the ink on the page you are looking at. So you have to turn each page to get a clear image of each. But not every page is completely filled and there are clear areas that let you see through it. Now imagine that each picture of the brain slices used in this reconstruction are printed, in order, within this book. You could look at the book from any angle and see the edges of the brain.

"The boundaries of objects are the least of all things." - Leonardo 

To see inside the brain would require you opening up the book. Doing this would split the brain in half and you would see how it appears at that layer. Like cutting an onion and looking at each section. Got it?

Now imagine that just as you could print off each layer of brain to make a 3d image of it, you could also do the same for a portrait of someone. Like an mri - camera. You take thousands of x-ray pictures of someone and each of those pictures is at a different level/distance.  From the very back of their head - to the tip of their nose. All the pictures between are pictures of layers of their skull, brain, etc. Then you print those off and placed in order, from back to front. So essentially you have created a 3d representation of an entire person - like an mri/x-ray- machine - like the slices of this woman's brain - and like the Mona Lisa herself!

What i'm saying is that I think Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa in almost the exact same way. I'm also saying that he included everything between the back of her head to the tip of her nose! Soooo if you were to remove each layer of her face, one at a time, each layer you would see would be like cutting her face off in slices. Each of those slices - is like the slices of the aforementioned brain. I'm also saying that if you had a computer put them back together - like in this article - she would do the same thing. - aka: "The Mona Lisa is 3d"

Sounds pretty crazy- eh? It is! But that is not even close to being the 'craziest" part about this painting... Or Leonardo's "Sfumato Effect"

Hint* Imagine these "slices" as "Slides" - I would say more but I don't want to give away the *spoilers* in my book!
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