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

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 ]