Human consciousness. We intuitively know it’s real. After all, we’re awake and feel conscious. Yet, scientifically, researchers have struggled to explain the nature of consciousness.
According to the dictionary, the definition of consciousness is:
The state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surroundings.
A person’s awareness or perception of something.
Over the years, philosophers and researchers have generally built hypothesis around neurophysiological, physical or cognitive theories. Finally though, there is proof and insights into how we maintain consciousness that will no doubt spark a whole range of new scientific studies.
A new study led by by neurologists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) has revealed some amazing new facts about how the brain manages consciousness.
According to the study: “Consciousness is often defined in terms of 2 components: arousal and awareness.” Arousal in the sense of the sleep/wake state and also in the sense of nervous system arousal and responses. Awareness in the sense of self awareness – something that is most notable to the human species.
Researchers at BIDMC studied 36 patients with brainstem lesions, 12 of which led to coma and revealed a very small area of the brainstem that may be responsible for arousal.
Here are some of their findings:
Arousal in humans resides in a particular area of the brainstem. “This is the portion of the brain, contiguous with the spinal cord, that is responsible for the sleep/wake cycle and cardiac and respiratory rates.”
This arousal occurs through a downstream of neurons that activate our entire system.
Two regions in particular, the AI and pACC, have been shown in a couple of studies to be related to arousal and awareness. These regions are more active when we are awake and when our autonomic nervous system (ANS) is aroused. We’ve talked about the ANS previously and how (quite amazingly) thinking can arouse a response. View that info here.
These two regions in the brainstem become jointly active due to stimulation – visuals, smells, touch and so forth.
When selective disruption was caused to the AI region, this impaired conscious awareness in the participants. This is the only clear proof that has ever been discovered in terms of brain regions and their influence on consciousness, which really is a breakthrough in science.
Researchers speculate that awareness resides in the cerebral cortex – “the outer layer of the brain responsible for many of its higher functions.”
Researchers are now terming these areas the “consciousness network” – and are now continuing their studies in rodent models.
Being that the study was done with individuals experiencing consciousness disorder (coma), Michael D. Fox, M.D says, “If we zero in on the regions and network involved, can we someday wake someone up who is in a persistent vegetative state? That’s the ultimate question.”
Quantum physics has long talked about human consciousness. Here’s a great video explaining many of the intricate connections between our mind, body, and emotions, which all make up our conscious experience.
It’s fascinating to know that neurons react to emotions and thoughts. Thoughts can control our neurological responses and therefore our physical responses and outcomes, which is why it’s so important to foster a positive attitude.
People have overcome amazing odds due to their internal belief, commitment and motivation. Even to the extent of curing their own diseases and disabilities.
Now that we do have vastly improved ways to conduct scientific research, no doubt the future will reveal many more insights into human consciousness that may change the way we think and behave in life. Time will tell.