posted on Jul, 7 2014 @ 12:42 PM
The results have thus far only been seen in a single patient but the implications of this serendipitous discovery could be far-reaching.
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.
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
Here's a depiction of a cross section of a human brain with the claustrum in blue (from
An excerpt from the same Wikipedia entry detailing the claustrum's information processing:
The truly interesting thing about the claustrum, however, is how it can take in multiple information modalities, including motor, visual, and
auditory. It has even been shown that the same cells can process information across all these types, even though there is some semblance of
segregation across a single type of information.
The gist is that that the claustrum could act as a hub of sorts between the various regions of the brain and if so, could be responsible for
aggregating the disparate signals and forming the coherent experience we know as consciousness. If this is born out by further experimentation it
would confirm Crick and Koch's hypothesis and represent a significant step forward in understanding how consciousness is formed within the brain. In
the near term, I'd expect this to potentially lead to things like safer alternatives to modern anesthesia and improvements in AI design.
edit on 2014-7-7 by theantediluvian because: (no reason given)