Consciousness & Mind

I died and went to …

Very few humans are comfortable with the notion of dying, even those who strongly believe in the here-after (although they might not admit it). Science is still learning a great deal about how the body dies, but there are few forays into what happens after the body eternally falls asleep.

Pim van Lommel and colleagues from the Netherlands published an article in The Lancet, a British medical journal, where they describe a study on near-death experiences. They interviewed 344 revived cardiac arrest patients regarding their recent brush with death, and 18% reported some memory of an experience. Their research approach attempts to obtain more accurate accounts without relying on long-term memories.

Of course, any scientific claim regarding after-death experiences are susceptible to many potential problems and critiques, like the occurrence of false memories or the unconscious brain misinterpreting activity from its environment. The Washington Post article below does a nice job of putting the research in perspective, so you should definitely read it carefully.

Wouldn’t it be nice, though, to know what will really happen to us after we close our eyes for the final time? What do you think?

[Read the article from the Washington Post]

[Read commentary from a reasonable skeptic in The Lancet]

If you really want to read about this to form your own opinions, read the published article: Pim van Lommel, et al., “Near-death experience in survivors of cardiac arrest: a prospective study in the Netherlands” The Lancet 358, 9298 (2001)

NOTE: I have not read this article completely, but will report back when I do for more commentary and perspective right here on Neuron News.

Discover your creativity

Scientists from the Centre for the Mind in Sydney claim to have enhanced the brain’s creative abilities with a few properly-placed magnets.

(NOTE: This research has not yet been published in a refereed, scientific journal. We will keep our eye out for it, and report back here when it does appear. However, BBC News andDiscover Magazine have recently reported on their work.)

The motivation for this approach comes from savants, who are individuals with some developmental disorder, like autism, but also portray extraordinary artistic or mathematical skills. Somehow the brains of these special people are over-compensating for other developmental problems, allowing three-year-old autistic children to sketch stunningly realistic scenes.

Professor Snyder has apparently demonstrated that their magnetic device can improve a person’s drawing skills within minutes. This is a very tantalizing and interesting idea. We should wait for the journal article to appear…

In the meantime, if you want to tap into your unconscious and creative self, why not try developing your lucid dreaming skills? This technique is still a little less scientific than we prefer to be here at DPRI, but lucidity can at least be a great experience!

[Read the article from BBC News]

[Read the article from Discover Magazine]

Consciousness in the Chemistry

This article from the Washington Post summarizes a few of the current opinions in consciousness studies.

Most philosophers and scientists today firmly believe that a little controller sitting somewhere in your head directing conscious activities does not exist, as René Descartes purported in the 17th century. Consciousness somehow arises from, as is quoted here, “highly organized brain chemistry”. This is somewhat understated, however, because your consciousness certainly is the result of a “highly organized” system, but there’s more than just chemistry.

A few major players in consciousness thinking are quoted. Their ideas for the origins of consciousness cover the gamut from “mundane” mechanisms or it’s a fundamental property of the Universe, like gravity, to the idea that consciousness is only an illusion.

Consider each carefully. You must keep in mind that your brain is a very complex system and no one yet knows the power of billions of interconnected neurons.

[Read the article from the Washington Post]

Consciousness Raising

Your brain is composed of some 100 billion interconnected neurons. Maybe it’s not too much of a leap of faith to accept that this extremely complicated network allows you to function and interact with your environment each and every day. For example, light from your computer monitor is being input, organized, and interpreted to allow you to read these words.

However, there’s more to this picture: you also are understanding these words, which allows you to form your own impressions, biases, and conclusions. You will make a decision based on your personal interests and history whether or not to click on the links below. And, you will consider if you will ever return to this web site.

This example just touches the surface of the extended functions and capabilities of your brain above and beyond the more rudimentary tasks of maintaining your heart beat and breathing cycles. We often attribute these “extra” amazing properties, including your personal awareness of yourself (“I think therefore I am!“), to your consciousness.

But, what is your consciousness? Where is it located in your brain, if anywhere? How does is come to be? Does a separate consciousness even exist outside the context of your brain’s neuron networks?

These very difficult questions have been debated since, well, since man become conscious!

Although it’s not a first for today’s scientists, Johnjoe McFadden is presenting another hypothesis for a physical correlate of consciousness. His idea centers on how electromagnetic fields resulting from synchronous electrical activity between neurons somehow feeds back to the neurons to enhance or alter their communication.

I am currently reviewing McFadden’s paper and will report back once I’ve finished. After my initial skim I did not see any equations, graphs, or illustrative examples of computational or experimental work. This greatly concerns me as to how far McFadden’s “theory” (as he claims) has moved beyond more than just a thought he came up with while singing in the shower.

[Read the article from Wired News]

[Read the paper describing the idea (PDF). Johnjoe McFadden Journal of Consciousness Studies 9, p. 23-50 (2002)]

Last updated October 26, 2021