Electrode turns consciousness on and off

Woman lost awareness, though appeared awake, when her brain was stimulated

4:22pm, July 15, 2014
brain scans of epileptic woman

OFF SWITCH  An electrode (red circle) used to stimulate a brain site near an epileptic woman’s claustrum (highlighted in yellow) appears on these brain scans. When the electrode was turned on, she appeared to lose consciousness.

With a zap from a single brain electrode, doctors were able to wipe out a woman’s consciousness. As soon as the electrode turned on, the woman remained awake but became blank and withdrew from awareness. When the electrode turned off, she returned to normal, though she remembered nothing of the experience.

The results provide a tantalizing hint to a question that has plagued thinkers for millennia: How can a hunk of tissue in the skull create subjective feelings and experiences? Today’s brain scientists have attacked this mind-body problem with new theories and experiments designed to tease apart the components of consciousness within the brain (SN: 2/11/12, p. 22). This on-off consciousness switch may lead to a deeper understanding of how the physical brain creates a mental experience.

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