Connect with us

Metaphysics & Psychology

Consciousness on-off switch discovered deep in brain

Consciousness on-off switch discovered deep in brain  86

by Helen Thomson

ONE moment you’re conscious, the next you’re not. For the first time, researchers have switched off consciousness by electrically stimulating a single brain area.

Scientists have been probing individual regions of the brain for over a century, exploring their function by zapping them with electricity and temporarily putting them out of action. Despite this, they have never been able to turn off consciousness – until now.

Although only tested in one person, the discovery suggests that a single area – the claustrum – might be integral to combining disparate brain activity into a seamless package of thoughts, sensations and emotions. It takes us a step closer to answering a problem that has confounded scientists and philosophers for millennia – namely how our conscious awareness arises.

Many theories abound but most agree that consciousness has to involve the integration of activity from several brain networks, allowing us to perceive our surroundings as one single unifying experience rather than isolated sensory perceptions.

One proponent of this idea was Francis Crick, a pioneering neuroscientist who earlier in his career had identified the structure of DNA. Just days before he died in July 2004, Crick was working on a paper that suggested our consciousness needs something akin to an orchestra conductor to bind all of our different external and internal perceptions together.

With his colleague Christof Koch, at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, he hypothesised that this conductor would need to rapidly integrate information across distinct regions of the brain and bind together information arriving at different times. For example, information about the smell and colour of a rose, its name, and a memory of its relevance, can be bound into one conscious experience of being handed a rose on Valentine’s day.

The pair suggested that the claustrum – a thin, sheet-like structure that lies hidden deep inside the brain – is perfectly suited to this job (Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B, doi.org/djjw5m).

It now looks as if Crick and Koch were on to something. In a study published last week, Mohamad Koubeissi at the George Washington University in Washington DC and his colleagues describe how they managed to switch a woman’s consciousness off and on by stimulating her claustrum. The woman has epilepsy so the team were using deep brain electrodes to record signals from different brain regions to work out where her seizures originate. One electrode was positioned next to the claustrum, an area that had never been stimulated before.

When the team zapped the area with high frequency electrical impulses, the woman lost consciousness. She stopped reading and stared blankly into space, she didn’t respond to auditory or visual commands and her breathing slowed. As soon as the stimulation stopped, she immediately regained consciousness with no memory of the event. The same thing happened every time the area was stimulated during two days of experiments (Epilepsy and Behavior, doi.org/tgn).

To confirm that they were affecting the woman’s consciousness rather than just her ability to speak or move, the team asked her to repeat the word “house” or snap her fingers before the stimulation began. If the stimulation was disrupting a brain region responsible for movement or language she would have stopped moving or talking almost immediately. Instead, she gradually spoke more quietly or moved less and less until she drifted into unconsciousness. Since there was no sign of epileptic brain activity during or after the stimulation, the team is sure that it wasn’t a side effect of a seizure.

Koubeissi thinks that the results do indeed suggest that the claustrum plays a vital role in triggering conscious experience. “I would liken it to a car,” he says. “A car on the road has many parts that facilitate its movement – the gas, the transmission, the engine – but there’s only one spot where you turn the key and it all switches on and works together. So while consciousness is a complicated process created via many structures and networks – we may have found the key.”

Awake but unconscious

Counter-intuitively, Koubeissi’s team found that the woman’s loss of consciousness was associated with increased synchrony of electrical activity, or brainwaves, in the frontal and parietal regions of the brain that participate in conscious awareness. Although different areas of the brain are thought to synchronise activity to bind different aspects of an experience together, too much synchronisation seems to be bad. The brain can’t distinguish one aspect from another, stopping a cohesive experience emerging.

Since similar brainwaves occur during an epileptic seizure, Koubeissi’s team now plans to investigate whether lower frequency stimulation of the claustrum could jolt them back to normal. It may even be worth trying for people in a minimally conscious state, he says. “Perhaps we could try to stimulate this region in an attempt to push them out of this state.”

Anil Seth, who studies consciousness at the University of Sussex, UK, warns that we have to be cautious when interpreting behaviour from a single case study. The woman was missing part of her hippocampus, which was removed to treat her epilepsy, so she doesn’t represent a “normal” brain, he says.

However, he points out that the interesting thing about this study is that the person was still awake. “Normally when we look at conscious states we are looking at awake versus sleep, or coma versus vegetative state, or anaesthesia.” Most of these involve changes of wakefulness as well as consciousness but not this time, says Seth. “So even though it’s a single case study, it’s potentially quite informative about what’s happening when you selectively modulate consciousness alone.”

“Francis would have been pleased as punch,” says Koch, who was told by Crick’s wife that on his deathbed, Crick was hallucinating an argument with Koch about the claustrum and its connection to consciousness.

“Ultimately, if we know how consciousness is created and which parts of the brain are involved then we can understand who has it and who doesn’t,” says Koch. “Do robots have it? Do fetuses? Does a cat or dog or worm? This study is incredibly intriguing but it is one brick in a large edifice of consciousness that we’re trying to build.”

The hidden key

This article appeared in print under the headline “Consciousness – we hit its sweet spot”

Comments

Metaphysics & Psychology

A part of a person’s essence accompanies him throughout his life: this is confirmed by a brain scan

A part of a person's essence accompanies him throughout his life: this is confirmed by a brain scan 99
Photo: pixabay.com

A new method of scanning the human brain has produced amazing results. It turns out that in every person there is a certain part of his essence, which accompanies him all his life from the moment of birth to death.

Scientists believe that this is the core of a person’s self-awareness. It combines memories of the past with fleeting sensations of reality and provides a basis for anticipation of events in the future.

It turned out that a certain part of a person’s consciousness is consistent as they grow older and older.

For centuries, scientists and philosophers have been interested in the question: can this sense of “personal self” be stable throughout life? A new psychological study with the results of a brain scan made it possible to conclude that a certain part of a person’s consciousness really accompanies him throughout his life.

It is consistent as it gets older and older. Miguel Rubianes, a neuroscientist at the Complutense University of Madrid, says the aim of the study was to answer the question: Are we the same person throughout life? In combination with the results of other studies, scientists have concluded that there is a certain component that remains stable from birth to death.

The other part of consciousness remains susceptible to current changes. The scientists recognized independence as the basis of identity. And every time a person uses the word “I”, he means a thread that connects together all the events and experiences that have occurred in life.

Experience gained over the years changes a person, changes the components of his identity. Each case associated with personal experiences, a broken heart, a successful career step, expected or unexpected failure lead to the fact that a person compares himself to himself before and after these events. It is a neurological programming scheme that involves visual self-knowledge as an indicator of connection with your impressions of yourself.

This effect makes it possible to cope with memories and recognition of information when it is associated, for example, with one’s own photograph of an infant. Although this principle has a lot of evidence, scientists believe that the very mechanism of the brain involved in this remains a mystery.

This study was published in the journal Psychophysiology.

Continue Reading

Metaphysics & Psychology

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop 100

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we sometimes do not notice how time flies past us, what miracles surround us. We do not have time to listen to the rustle of leaves in the wind and we miss those minutes when the crimson moon hangs at the very horizon.

Below are 10 films that reflect the beauty and diversity of our world. You watch such a movie and forget about everything.

Kytice

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

7 fairy tales-ballads based on Czech folklore are filmed colorfully and poetically. 

They endure a time when people were closer to nature, believed in miracles and the spirits of the forest, when the terrible and the beautiful were merged together.

Ashes and snow

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

Gregory Colbert’s documentary has no plot, but it attracts with its stunning, unrestrained beauty, reflecting the unity of man with nature.

The film was shot for 13 years in the most exotic corners of our planet: Burma, Ethiopia, India, Antarctica, Sri Lanka, Tonga islands and many other picturesque places.

The fountain

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

The main character Thomas tries to find a cure for his wife Isabelle. Every day she gets worse, and he cannot be near, because he puts experiments in the laboratory. In his soul, love, the desire to be with Isabelle and the desire to extend her life are fighting. 

Darren Aronofsky’s philosophical drama was filmed in vivid colors, despite the fact that the director did not use computer special effects.

Samsara

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

This is a beautiful one and a half hour trip to the most amazing places on the planet. 

Director Ron Fricke showed the inextricable connection of all people and events on earth, the cycle of death and birth, the versatility of our world, where beauty coexists with nondescriptness, and the end means the beginning.

The Bear

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

The story of a bear cub that lost its mother and nailed to a large wounded bear. Together they have to go through many trials, the worst of which is meeting the hunters. 

The wonderful plot of the film is combined with stunning music that helps you immerse yourself in the world of nature and feel it with your whole body.

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

The harsh Siberian nature, untouched by man, the majestic Yenisei River and the small village of Bakhta with a simple way of life. 

People live and survive in these parts, rely only on themselves and also ask only themselves. Four seasons – four lifestyles for each of them.

August Rush

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

Young musician August Rush does not know his parents, but he really wants to find them and for some reason is sure that if he plays, they will hear and recognize him by his music. 

Mesmerizing music permeates the entire film and works wonders to dispel the evil spell of separation.

Baraka

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

A documentary masterpiece, a philosophical essay accompanied by superb cinematography and music, goes without words. The only and main actor here is life in all its diversity and unity. 

The gaze of a monkey sitting in a hot pond is equal to all the depths of cold space, and the dances of the aborigines are synchronized with the movements of the forest.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

This is a beautiful and unhurried philosophical parable about a wheel of time moving into infinity. Each time, with the beginning of a new cycle of rotation, life on earth is renewed, and everyone has the opportunity for a new rebirth. 

The film by Korean director Kim Ki-dook tells about two monks – a teacher and his student – and the obstacles that must be overcome on the way to finding harmony.

Chronos

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

The main characters of the documentary narration are cultural and historical monuments. 

They absorbed the life of the people who created them, and have remained for centuries as an imprint of bygone eras.

Continue Reading

Metaphysics & Psychology

Three suns were observed high above Beijing for 2 hours (video)

Three suns were observed high above Beijing for 2 hours (video) 101

At present, the Coronavirus epidemic is making a comeback in the mainland. At the same time, anomalies have also appeared in various places, such as meteorites falling from the sky, red “odd lights” in the sky, earthquakes and so on. In Beijing, where the epidemic is in urgency, “three suns” appeared yesterday, which stood high above Beijing for more than two hours, which was very eye-catching.

According to a comprehensive report, at about 9 am on December 29th, a spectacle appeared in the Beijing sky and the “three suns” were reflected at the same time. According to the netizens who filmed the phenomenon, the whole process lasted for about 2 hours starting from around 9 o’clock in the morning. Photographers called it a “bilateral sun” wonder.

The online video shows that there is a faint layer of white clouds in the sky, and a bright big sun is mapped out from behind the white clouds. There are two small suns on both sides. Although the light of the small sun is not as bright as the big sun, the coexistence of three suns is still visible.

A netizen posted:

“Beijing today can see the sunshade on both sides of the city around noon today. In some areas, there is also an arc around the zenith and a very light 46-degree halo. Huairou has an external halo.”

Netizens were on alert:

“Something is going to change.”
“The three suns are still so cold?”
“I always feel that there are so many spectacles this year. Rain, snow, and rainbows ring the zenith rainbow.”
“What’s the sign? Begin to interpret…”
“Great omen.” “Frequent astronomical anomalies in recent years especially recently.”

Since 2020, the Covid epidemic has ravaged the world, and various anomalies have appeared one after another across China, including crows flying all over the sky, some cities being overcasted, extreme thunders in February, tens of thousands of sparrows blocking the way and so on.

At around 6 o’clock in the morning on March 16, the shocking landscape of the “three suns” appeared in the sky in Hulin City, Heilongjiang Province.

Three suns were observed high above Beijing for 2 hours (video) 102
In the early morning of March 16, the shocking landscape of three suns appeared in the sky of Hulin City, Heilongjiang Province. (Weibo picture)

On the morning of March 18, Shenzhen suddenly went dark. On the same day, Beijing, Hebei, Tianjin and other places were hit by strong winds of magnitude 9 to 11, and sand was blown in some areas. The sky in Beijing became muddy yellow, debris was blown into the air, and pedestrians were blown over.

On the same day, the Kunming Lake in the Summer Palace in the western suburbs of Beijing set off a huge wave. The waves were turbulent.

An old man in Beijing said that the rising tide of the Lake in the Summer Palace is a big omen and that China is about to change its route.

On May 21, Beijing went from thunderstorms to heavy rains, and then suddenly dark, day like night, and hail. Some netizens said:

“If there is a omen in the sky, something big must happen, usually a disaster.”

At the end of 2020, meteorites descended from the sky appeared in China , the sky showed pink “exotic light”, earthquakes, “three suns” and other phenomena.

At 7:25 in the morning on December 23, the Qinghai Seismic Network recorded a bolide falling into Nangqian County, Yushu, Qinghai. The video showed that after a loud noise from a distance, a big fireball suddenly struck across the air. Experts said that what fell into Qinghai was “a super meteorite.”

When the meteor fell, a mysterious and strange “pink light” appeared in Delingha, north of Yushu , Qinghai that day , which netizens called the “red moon”.

Three suns were observed high above Beijing for 2 hours (video) 103
Twelve hours after the meteorite fell in the morning in Yushu, Qinghai Province on December 23, a mysterious pink cluster of light appeared in the Delingha area north of Yushu, causing concern. (Video screenshot)

At 7:51 on the 24th, a magnitude 4.2 earthquake occurred in Maduo County, Guoluo Prefecture, Qinghai Province, with a focal depth of 7 kilometers.

Many people believe that the earthquake and red light may be related to the bolide in Qinghai.

Recently, epidemics have broken out across China. Not only has Beijing cancelled large-scale mass events, but also all large-scale meetings originally scheduled to be held in Beijing. At the same time, the prevention and control of the epidemic in Beijing has entered a state of emergency.

Some analysts say that there are omens in the sky and changes in the world. Coupled with many disasters in 2020, according to ancient astrological predictions, it indicates that there will be major events in China in the coming year.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

DO NOT MISS

Trending