Scientists have been trying for long to figure out how exactly consciousness works and the concept behind it. A brief communication published on Epilepsy and Behavior, suggests that scientists from George Washington University might have accidentally discovered what they call an “on/off switch” for human consciousness.
The scientists claim to have discovered the area of the brain that controls consciousness.
So the question is how is finding the way to control consciousness so vital. If confirmed, this could help in more painless surgery and might even let us understand the enduring mystery of human consciousness itself.
The researchers were using deep brain electrodes to monitor brain signals of an epileptic patient and try to pinpoint the area of a patient’s brain that was causing her seizures. One of the electrodes was placed on the claustrum, “a thin, sheet-like structure that lies hidden deep inside the brain,” with electrodes.
The women unexpectedly lost consciousness when the area was stimulated with high frequency electrical impulses. Her breathing slowed down and she stopped responding to visual and auditory stimuli.
”Unlike a seizure, where a person’s activity immediately stops, the patient seemed to ‘slow down,’ speaking more quietly and moving more slowly until she was silent and still, unresponsive to voice or visual stimulation.”
When she regained consciousness she had no memory of what just happened.
The experiment was repeated for two days, by zapping electrical impulses in the same area and the the same result was achieved every time.
American neuroscientist Cristof Koch said: “This study is incredibly intriguing but it is one brick in a large edifice of consciousness that we’re trying to build … Ultimately, if we know how consciousness is created and which parts of the brain are involved then we can understand who has it and who doesn’t.”
This test has been performed on one patient and a portion of her hippocampus was removed prior to the experiment as part of her epilepsy treatment. So the results, although consistent, are not representative of a “normal brain”.
The team will be investigating whether low frequency stimulation on the claustrum could also jolt back consciousness, which can help in treatment for people trapped in minimally conscious states. Koulbeissi says. “Perhaps we could try to stimulate this region in an attempt to push them out of this state.”
Maybe one day, we’ll be able to fall asleep by just flipping the OFF switch located deep within our brains.