Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Consiousness signature

What and where is the mind? An ancient and intriguing question that still has not been answered by modern science. Scores of books have been released in the last few years that propose different theories, many at odds with one another. And none yet with a definitive theory of what consciousness really is.

Of course we know consciousness when we see it, right? Perhaps most of the time. But what about those painful situations where we just don't know for sure whether a person is conscious, or at what level . . . or perhaps they are even "brain dead." A way to objectively measure consciousness could be a very useful tool indeed.

A recent article in New Scientist summarizes new data published in the PLoS (Public Library of Science) Biology journal about the possible discovery of a consciousness signature. Researchers found that there is a dynamic pattern of interaction of brain regions when a person is conscious that is distinct from activity seen when not conscious . . . or at least not focused ( a low level of consciousness).

While there's a lot to be argued over here, it's an interesting development. One that you can add to your arsenal information when the questions about mind vs. brain come up in your A&P course.

'Consciousness signature' discovered spanning the brain
A. Ananthaswamy
New Scientist online 17 March 2009
[Great summary of the original research and its place in the overall discussion of the theories of consciousness. Has links to some very good similar stories.]

Converging Intracranial Markers of Conscious Access
Gaillard R, et al.
PLoS Biology Vol. 7, No. 3, e61 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000061
[The original FREE research article with a useful "Author Summary" that boils it down for nonexperts. Includes some great images you can use in class for related topics.]

For other FREE journals like PLoS Biology, please see my list of FREE JOURNALS.

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