Scientists from George Washington University have discovered a way to switch human consciousness on and off – and they weren’t even looking for it.
As New Scientist reports, lead researcher Mohamad Koubeissi and his team were monitoring an epileptic patient’s brain activity by sending high frequency signals to deep brain electrodes, to try to identify what was causing her seizures. But one of the electrodes unexpectedly caused her to lose consciousness, not suddenly but as if she were slowly powering off (so more like a dimmer switch, I guess).
The electrode had been placed just by the claustrum, a thin sheet of neurons that runs between major structures of the brain, which had never been studied with deep brain electrodes before.The scientists asked the patient to talk and move to ensure they weren’t just affecting her ability to perform tasks, but she did as they asked until losing consciousness. When they repeated the sequence of events on multiple occasions, the same thing happened.
It’s so far only been tested in this one patient, and she had already had part of her brain removed due to her epilepsy, so her results might not be typical. But Koubeissi and his team hope that their discovery might have a function in treating epilepsy in future, by sending lower-strength signals to this part of the brain in order to shock it out of seizures. He told New Scientist, ‘…While consciousness is a complicated process created via many structures and networks – we may have found the key.’
That could be good news down the line for epileptics, insomniacs, and anyone who’d just like to escape their life for a little while.
Image via R/DV/RS’s Flickr.