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Consciousness: How The Brain Loses And Regains It

Posted March 05, 2013 9:29 AM

From Science 2.0:

Doctors have used drugs to induce general anesthesia in patients undergoing surgery since a medical doctor became a legitimate profession in the mid-1800s. But little has been known about how these drugs create such a profound loss of consciousness. We don't understand why aspirin works either, but it does. Yet the search for answers about the brain is ongoing.

Anesthesiologists now rely on a monitoring system that takes electroencephalogram (EEG) information and combines it into a single number between zero and 100. However, that index actually obscures the information that would be most useful, according to a new study that tracked brain activity in human volunteers over a two-hour period as they lost and regained consciousness, researchers from MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital have identified distinctive brain patterns associated with different stages of general anesthesia.

"When anesthesiologists are taking care of someone in the operating room, they can use the information in this article to make sure that someone is unconscious, and they can have a specific idea of when the person may be regaining consciousness," says senior author Emery Brown, an MIT professor of brain and cognitive sciences and health sciences and technology and an anesthesiologist at MGH.

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Guru

Join Date: Aug 2009
Posts: 574
Good Answers: 5
#1

Re: Consciousness: How The Brain Loses And Regains It

03/06/2013 6:10 PM

The title of a link at the same page seems more interesting, but the title is inaccurate. It discusses a correlation, but offers no explanation that the title suggests.

From the article at this second link: "The anesthetized brain provides new views into the emergence of consciousness." Emergence (as in transition) maybe, but not the mystery solved -- even almost, as the article title says.

From the ground I can see a plane doing all the things a plane does -- docked at the terminal, sitting on a runway, taking off, flying, landing, and so on. It tells me nothing of whether the plane is on automatic pilot, whether a monkey might be at the controls, or the pilot might be drunk, etc. Observations of phenomena that are coincidental with one another can imply a possible causal relationship in one direction or the other -- chicken or egg. It is not an explanation of what consciousness is. Even with sophisticated instrumentation, the observers are still on the ground, so to speak. They are outside looking in. Short of developing a Vulcan Mind Meld, I don't see how any one of us ever knows for sure what another "self" experiences. (One of the things I've always appreciated about the movie, "Contact.") We might correlate similar experiences between those who report similar experiences, draw conclusions and then hypothesize, and that is what NDE researchers, among others, attempt to do. Also, labs research whether or not these states can be induced via physical, chemical, electrical, or electromagnetic, stimulation; or any combination of them. (And that has its own tangent of discussion.)

Results in both these articles might eventually lead to substantial knowledge, but it's way too premature to imply science has gotten anywhere close to having consciousness figured out. Controversial topics, such as self-awareness during induced unconsciousness, as reported by people -- some patients undergoing surgery, some declared dead by normal instrumental criteria, who were then revived, and some "spontaneously" (I'll leave aside those who claim to undergo the process and enter the state, willfully and consciously.) -- are being studied by some physicians/researchers. There are anomalies there that will still remain to be fully explained and all variations accounted for. As far as I can tell, the status of our scientific understanding is still quite primitive. The status of the research and our understanding seems to be kept pretty current here. And what is the "self" that directs consciousness? I see no indications that we're close to solving the mystery with physical science. I am of the opinion we can't and won't. Senility, I guess.

There is also an obvious observation about anesthesia and aspirin here that begs to be made, about medical inconsistencies, but I'll refrain.

(I know the linked article of the OP is meant to just be one of many news items, but the teaser aspect of titles can be borderline, (in this case, maybe borderland) or downright misleading, as in the second article I found.)

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