Latest in Science

Image credit:

Scientists think this is where your consciousness lives

Harvard researchers believe they've discovered the physical seat of human awareness.
Andrew Tarantola, @terrortola
November 8, 2016
1 Shares
Share
Tweet
Share

Sponsored Links

You're reading this right now. Yes, sure, your eyes are converting incoming photons into electrical impulses which travel up the optic nerve into your visual cortex, which in turn processes that information into coherent thought. But you -- the active consciousness that constitutes your personality-- are reading this. And now a team of Harvard scientists think they've figured out how that works.

Consciousness has traditionally been defined by two criteria: arousal and awareness. Arousal has already been traced to the brainstem, the primitive part of our brains which handles our most basic functions like breathing and regulating the sleep/wake cycle. Awareness on the other hand has been a bit trickier to pin down. Turns out, however, awareness resides there too.

The Harvard study examined 36 patients with similar brainstem lesions, 12 of which were comatose. The study sought to determine why that dozen of people lost consciousness while the other 24 retained theirs. The researchers quickly zeroed in on one region: the rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum. Ten of the twelve comatose patients suffered damage to this area, while only one of the conscious patients did.

So yeah, this is potentially the seat of human consciousness. But it isn't solely responsible. The Harvard researchers then examined the connectome -- basically, a map of the brain's various regional connections -- of a healthy patient. The team discovered a pair of regions in the frontal cortex that connect directly to the rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum: one in the left, ventral, anterior insula (AI), the other in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC). A separate fMRI survey of 45 healthy patients confirmed that this neural pathway was not an aberration.

That said, don't go trying to extract human souls a la Marsellus Wallace just yet. The study results will need to be peer reviewed and tested against a larger population sample before being accepted. Still, this is an exciting development and could lead to meaningful new treatments for people in comas.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Comment
Comments
Share
1 Shares
Share
Tweet
Share

Popular on Engadget

Elon Musk warns that Tesla's 'Battery Day' tech is two years away

Elon Musk warns that Tesla's 'Battery Day' tech is two years away

View
Microsoft’s Bethesda deal: Great for Game Pass, troubling for exclusives

Microsoft’s Bethesda deal: Great for Game Pass, troubling for exclusives

View
Microsoft keeps the same price for its new wireless Xbox controllers

Microsoft keeps the same price for its new wireless Xbox controllers

View
NASA's Mars 2020 rover passes its driving test

NASA's Mars 2020 rover passes its driving test

View
Logitech’s new MX Anywhere 3 mouse has buttons to control Zoom calls

Logitech’s new MX Anywhere 3 mouse has buttons to control Zoom calls

View

From around the web

Page 1Page 1ear iconeye iconFill 23text filevr