How Neuroscience Is Changing What We Mean by Consciousness

When patients in vegetative states register higher-order thinking on brain scans, our understanding of consciousness achieves an even subtler shade of gray. 

What's the Latest Development?


New medical experiments involving anesthetics are revealing essential new distinctions in the age-old attempt to define consciousness, giving us a better understanding of ourselves as human beings and creating a new avenue for medical treatment. By scanning the brains of patients who are put under for surgery, neuroscientists have correlated different brain regions with different degrees of consciousness. When patients come out of anesthesia, the brain's most primitive parts wake up first, such as the brain stem and thalamus, while the neocortex, which controls higher-order thinking, becomes active at a later stage. 

What's the Big Idea?

In 2006, Cambridge University researchers reported on a patient in a vegetative state who nonetheless demonstrated higher-order brain functioning, as measured by brain scans, when asked to imagine activities such as playing a game of tennis. This observation struck at the heart of contemporary questions about the relevance of neuroscience. While semi-awake patients, and even vegetative ones, may exhibits traits of consciousness, our understanding of our own self-awareness looks to be caught in more shades of gray than ever. 

Photo credit: shutterstock.com

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

What’s behind our appetite for self-destruction?

Is it "perverseness," the "death drive," or something else?

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.

Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Photo: Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less