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    A Live View of Unconsciousness
    By Matthew T. Dearing | June 14th 2011 09:45 PM | 9 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    It's difficult to know what you are thinking -- or what is happening in your own brain -- as you loose consciousness. There are many instances where this loss might happen, including getting whacked up side the head, inhaling a large volume of non-medically-inspired drugs, or, to the preference of many, falling into a deep sleep during anesthesia before an invasive operation.

    Many research groups have studied the brain during its influence to anesthetic drugs, in particular Stuart Hameroff from the University of Arizona. The brain seems to become almost numb and nearly shuts down entirely, enabling trained professionals to freely cut into the human body without the distraction of painful screams and cries for help from the patient. But, this is a rather interesting phenomena, that is not entirely understood.


    Reconstruction of the brain during the onset of anaesthesia. CREDIT: University of Manchester via LiveScience.com

    Directly watching the brain as it slips into unconsciousness would certainly be an interesting approach to trying to solve not only the mysteries of anesthesia, but to also better understand what it meansfor the brain to be conscious, or at least aware. Now, with a new observational technique developed by the University of Manchester, called functional electrical impedance tomography by evoked response (fEITER), the attempt is underway to create live views of the brain's electrical activity as it shuts down from anesthetic drugs. With this near real-time recording, the research team, lead by Brian Pollard, Professor of Anaesthesia at the University of Manchester, is hoping to learn more about the differences between an unaware and aware brain and how these differences might lead to a better understanding of what the phenomenon of consciousness really is for human beings.

    Notice, here, that a subtle change of words was made from "consciousness" to "awareness" and back again. This difference seems to be important, however, and should not be used lightly. A brain might be considered "aware" of its surroundings by responding to pain being induced on its body, or to the intense colors and lights surrounding its head during a walk through Times Square in New York City. But, a simple diode light sensor switching off an automatic garage door motor might also be considered to be "aware" of the puppy dog running through its beam just before the door touches ground.

    So, what seems to be an additional specialty to humans is that our brains are more than just aware. There is something more to consciousness; something to being self-aware. Or, maybe not... we just don't understand, yet. However, the real-time, three-dimensional electrical views generated by fEITER devices should provide some extremely interesting comparisons between the aware and unaware brain. And, it is seemingly from this awareness that emerges our sensation of consciousness, so understanding the electrical requirements for awareness is an important step to understanding the neural correlate of consciousness.

    "3-D Images Reveal What Happens as Brain Loses Consciousness" :: LiveScience :: June 10, 2011 [ READ MORE ]





    Comments

    "loose consciousness." Are you loosing consciousness on the rest of humanity or did you LOSE consciousness and don't know where to find it.

    Sorry, in this case, the misspelling is aggravating and makes me want to not continue with the article. I'm as guilty as anyone of making these kinds of errors in the written word but surely there's an editor with this website that is purportedly scientifically and, therefore, educationally minded.

    It appears that Dr. Hameroff is a stunningly boring lecturer, since according to the sentence:

    "Many research groups have studied the brain during its influence to anesthetic drugs, in particular Stuart Hameroff from the University of Arizona. "

    he is the anesthetic in particular that they're studying.

    I know we've given up on the general populace and the issue of proper grammar and spelling, but can we at least count on the writers to pay attention to what they're writing, so that they actually make sense?

    I would recommend a remedial course via Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.

    Gerhard Adam
    There is something more to consciousness; something to being self-aware.
    Well, it would help to define what we mean by "self".  How do we know what it is?  How do we identify our "self"?  These questions suggest that our sense of "self" is dependent in significant ways on our ability to abstract thoughts and have a sense of past, present, and future.  As a result, we not only have memory, we have the ability to construct a history of our experiences, and it is that history which ultimately defines what we mean by "self".

    This is evidenced by people that have lost their memory, because they are certainly aware of themselves, but without a history they have no idea of who they are anymore (this does not occur universally).  Their behavior may be radically different than before their memory loss, since they have no history on which to base their behavior.  As a result, they merely pick up from current circumstances and have no emotional connection to anything else for which they have no memory. 

    It is no coincidence that we all recognize the value of our experiences in forming who we are as people.  What would happen to our behavior if those experiences no longer existed? 

    I don't mean to imply that without our memories we would have no personalities, since clearly our brains are still functioning normally and there's no reason to believe that we wouldn't know how to behave.  Instead, my point is simply that it is the interpretation of our personal history that plays a key role in defining what we consider our "self" and without that, we would have know way of knowing whether we've changed or not.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Aitch
    Well, it would help to define what we mean by "self". How do we know what it is? How do we identify our "self"? These questions suggest that our sense of "self" is dependent in significant ways on our ability to abstract thoughts and have a sense of past, present, and future. As a result, we not only have memory, we have the ability to construct a history of our experiences, and it is that history which ultimately defines what we mean by "self".
    Find myself disagreeing again....unsurprisingly, as you don't seem to be conscious of the now!
    It has nothing to do with history or mental constructs....and the journey to consciousness is one few dare to venture on.....since they believe that since they aren't 'unconscious' they must be conscious
    Not so, I say.....true consciousness equates to an enlightened state of being or awareness, not just 'being awake' - since it is possible to be awake, yet not truly conscious
    I define my 'self' as that which is not 'other'.....
    The illustrative story of the dog not chewing his own leg comes to mind......Oh, but I'm not supposed to say mere animals are conscious, am I?
    Human superiority is the biggest barrier to consciousness, IMHO

    Aitch
    vongehr
    It is an important point to define "self" via time resolution. But it gets different identities. The blogger me for example exists only on time scales of at least minutes (for comments) and days or weeks in case of the one writing articles; he has history. He is a careful, knowledgeable guy that does not exist if you tried to interview him. His physical base would be talking crap that it later regrets if not plainly busy apologizing for not remembering any facts relevant to the questions, words stuck on the tip of the tongue making the ones behind stumble. The phenomenologically conscious me that experiences to write this comment only exists on a time resolution of about 300 to 1000 ms. History does not belong to that one; he seldom has parents or home, only ever a few pieces from memory are there. Below 300ms, there are no selves at all.
    Inside this framework, the blogger is "self-aware" (he writes right here about himself, does he not), but who is the one phenomenologically conscious? It is the one without history, the animal that is driven by unconscious mechanisms, the one that listens to his physical base talking, disagreeing more often than not.
    Gerhard Adam
    Yes, I agree with your description.  However, I was trying to distinguish between "awareness" versus "self-awareness" versus the concept of the "self".  Since virtually every living thing must be "aware" that doesn't seem to add anything to the concept.  "Self-awareness" is also present in a large number of animals, but my distinction is based on the idea that we extend this "self-awareness" by attaching a history to it, which provides us an "identity".

    So while we are certainly "self-aware" in the present framework, the "self" that we consider to be representative of our identity (i.e. who we are) is defined by the history that we have attached to our "self".  Also, when I refer to history it doesn't necessarily involve specific pieces of information, but rather the emotional content accumulated over years of experience that generates the sense of who we are.  Some events in our experience are more significant than others, but they clearly all have a cumulative effect on determining what kind of a person we are, and what we consider to be our "identity" (even if we disguise it to others). 

    The question that I was entertaining was what it would mean to our sense of "self" if we suddenly didn't possess those memories.  What if we didn't remember anything about our parents, our school, our education, or our job, etc.  How would we reconcile the individual we are at that moment with any particular identity?  In effect, it seems that we would simply be "self-aware" but disjointed from any sense of identity.
    Mundus vult decipi
    vongehr
    My main point was that at least in view of this being the comment section to the article above, which is about a certain kind of awareness/consciousness that is to do with phenomenological experience, the one that you like to talk about, namely the one with history, is not the issue.
    "Self-awareness" is also present in a large number of animals, but my distinction is based on the idea that we extend this "self-awareness" by attaching a history to it
    Those animals that give rise to phenomenological consciousness do have a similar history lacking mental experience as we do. The other "self-awareness" is the one that has history but no phenomenal experience. That kind of self-aware is not closely related to the neural correlates that glow green in the brain picture up there.
    We do not "extend this "self-awareness" by attaching a history to it", since "this" points to the phenomenological experience of the animals (all animals have the other kind of self-awareness).
    memories are interesting because it's easy for them to get very messed up - I heard a description once that the memory bank has a lazy and mischievous librarian who "retrieves" proximations, bits of actual memory, bits of other memories that fit, fiction and movies and lets you think that it's your memory

    your stress - especially long term stress impacts sleep and memory - especially the formation of short term memory

    I have two equally clear and totally contradictory memories of the morning of 9/11 - one where my spouse and I stayed home and watched and the other where she was at work and on the phone with a person as the second tower went down

    yet, I know from the time of day, and her own memory, we were both at home - and I can't explain where this other memory has come from

    Gerhard Adam
    I agree that memories can be fickle.  My only point in defining the "self" is that the memory doesn't actually have to be accurate, it simply needs to fulfill its role as representing some type of "history" that we integrate into our identity. 

    This is often the consequence of an individual growing up with a particular belief and then discovering that what they believe isn't true.  As a result, this often throws their sense of "self" into chaos and may result in profound behavioral changes.  This wouldn't be possible if "self" were something intrinsic in the brain.  It can only occur when "self" is a cobbled-together affair of memories and experiences that we use to define our identity.
    Mundus vult decipi