What's the Latest Development?
A medical patient, referred to simply as patient R to protect confidentiality, has exhibited a strong sense of self-awareness despite missing portions of the brain considered to be essential to consciousness. "Previous neuroimaging studies had suggested that three regions – the insular cortex, anterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex – are critical for self-awareness." Following a viral infection, however, patient R lost essential portions of these regions yet retained the ability to identify himself in photographs and pass the tickle test, a self-awareness test based on the observation that you can't tickle yourself.
What's the Big Idea?
Since the burgeoning of neuroimaging techniques, scientists have attempted to locate the base of consciousness in specific regions of the brain, thereby reducing consciousness, which we experience as immaterial, to well-defined material origins. But consciousness appears to be more flexible than computational theories of the mind would allow. According to David Rudrauf of the University of Iowa, who led the study, self-awareness involves "layers of abstraction and mechanisms that cannot be explained by standard functional-neuroanatomy." Our tendency thus far, he says, has been to oversimplify the relationship between the brain and the mind.
Photo credit: Shutterstock.com