Until the 1980s, doctors regularly performed operations on newborns without anaesthetics, because they were assumed to lack awareness.
While it feels like we are in control, we are really remembering things we have already unconsciously decided to do.
The hard problem of consciousness: where does my soul live?
What we perceive has little relation to reality, argues Professor Donald Hoffman.
The first study to show higher brain-signal diversity than normal when people are awake.
Neuroscientists have found that the brain enters a ‘higher state of consciousness’ under the influence of psychedelic drugs.
People given psilocybin, ketamine and LSD under controlled conditions displayed more diverse neural signalling — a measure of the complexity of brain activity.
This is the first study to show higher brain-signal diversity than normal when people are awake.
Professor Anil Seth, one of the study’s authors, said:
“This finding shows that the brain-on-psychedelics behaves very differently from normal.
During the psychedelic state, the electrical activity of the brain is less predictable and less ‘integrated’ than during normal conscious wakefulness – as measured by ‘global signal diversity’.
Since this measure has already shown its value as a measure of ‘conscious level’, we can say that the psychedelic state appears as a higher ‘level’ of consciousness than normal – but only with respect to this specific mathematical measure.”
The neuroscientists pointed out that this work does not imply that the higher state of consciousness is ‘better’ than the normal state — just different.
Dr Robin Cahart-Harris, study co-author, said:
“The present study’s findings help us understand what happens in people’s brains when they experience an expansion of their consciousness under psychedelics.
People often say they experience insight under these drugs – and when this occurs in a therapeutic context, it can predict positive outcomes.
The present findings may help us understand how this can happen.”
Professor Seth said:
“We found correlations between the intensity of the psychedelic experience, as reported by volunteers, and changes in signal diversity.
This suggests that our measure has close links not only to global brain changes induced by the drugs, but to those aspects of brain dynamics that underlie specific aspects of conscious experience.”
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports (Schartner et al., 2017).
Is your brain connected to the universe at a quantum level?
The recent discovery of quantum vibrations inside neurons in the brain supports a controversial theory of consciousness.
If correct, it might lead to new treatments for many different conditions, it is claimed in a new review of the evidence by Hameroff and Penrose (2013).
The theory–which implies the brain is connected to the universe at a quantum level–was first proposed in the 1990s, but it suffered extensive criticism.
One major point against it was that the brain was thought to be too “warm, wet and noisy” for coherent quantum processes.
Recent evidence, though, from researchers led by Anirban Bandyopadhyay has found the proposed quantum vibrations inside microtubules within brain neurons.
These microtubules are components of cell scaffolding–they help provide our cells with their structure–that are around 25µm in length.
Other research has also found evidence of quantum coherence in living cells. It has been found in our sense of smell, in the parts of bird’s brains responsible for navigation and in plant photosynthesis.
Hameroff and Penrose explain that their theory suggests…
“…consciousness derives from quantum vibrations in microtubules, protein polymers inside brain neurons, which both govern neuronal and synaptic function, and connect brain processes to self-organizing processes in the fine scale, ‘proto-conscious’ quantum structure of reality.”
They claim that their theory is…
“…the most rigorous, comprehensive and successfully-tested theory of consciousness ever put forth. From a practical standpoint, treating brain microtubule vibrations could benefit a host of mental, neurological, and cognitive conditions.”
They also think that the electrical ‘brain waves’ which can be detected by an EEG machine could be a result of these deeper level microtubule vibrations.
The restatement of the theory has produced a flurry of criticism in the journal where it was published, Physics of Life Reviews, but the authors maintain that their theory suggests…
“…conscious experience is intrinsically connected to the fine-scale structure of space–time geometry, and that consciousness could be deeply related to the operation of the laws of the universe.”
Image credit: MR McGill
Dan Dennett is a philosopher of consciousness whose talk for TED shows how consciousness is a kind of magic trick cooked up by our brains
The first problem in understanding our own minds is giving up many of the things we think we know. Dan Dennett is a philosopher of consciousness whose talk for TED, which uses visual illusions as illustrations, shows how consciousness is a kind of magic trick cooked up by our brains.
Some say in fifty years or so we’ll have enough neuro-scientific evidence to completely describe the functioning of the brain.
Some say in fifty years or so we’ll have enough neuro-scientific evidence to completely describe the functioning of the brain. The question is, will this mountain of evidence be enough to explain the emergence of human consciousness? Consciousness. This familiar yet indescribable experience we all have, an awareness, something we can’t physically point to nor experience from another’s viewpoint.