May 28, 2011

A Conversation on the Neuroethics of Deep Brain Stimulation

In this webcast provided by the Dana Foundation, Drs. Philip Campbell, Joseph Fins, Jonathan Moreno and Helen Mayberg discussed the ethical considerations of using deep brain stimulation. The topics covered in this interesting discussion included surgical experimentation, consciousness, depression, technology and public policy. Dr. Judy Illes served as the moderator.

Click here for the webcast.

Click here for an edited transcript of the discussion.

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March 10, 2011

Can Someone in a Vegetative State Communicate Thoughts?

In this short video (about 4 mins) from the New York Times, David Corcoran discusses evidence from an fMRI study that suggests that people in a vegetative state can communicate thoughts.

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March 1, 2011

A short video on the brain and concussions

Click here for a short clip on concussions and the brain provided by CBC.

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February 21, 2011

Former CFL players’ brains used to study link between concussions and disease

From the Globe and Mail:

Concussion stories from Bobby Kuntz’s days with the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats made for family football folklore until a decade ago when they suddenly seemed bittersweet.

Mr. Kuntz, who suffered as many as 20 concussions playing football in the 1950s and 60s, developed a tremor and started to forget things. His golf game went and he had to give up his position as president and chief executive officer of his family’s metal finishing business.

His symptoms were progressive, yet difficult to diagnose. His wife, Mary, took him down to the Mayo Clinic – he was in his late 60s – and doctors suggested Lewy Body dementia and Parkinson’s.

“The only way you’ll ever find out if its Lewy Body disease is to have an autopsy,” Mrs. Kuntz recalled the Mayo Clinic doctors telling her about a decade ago.

She had always planned on having her husband autopsied as she was concerned about whether her five living children were at risk of inheriting his brain disease. Ms. Kuntz wants to know if there is a link between repeated concussions and his Lewy Body disease, a progressive form of dementia, or Parkinson’s, a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system with similar characteristics.

Click here to read the rest of this article.

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February 2, 2011

Brain Waves and Meditation

From: ScienceDaily.com

Forget about crystals and candles, and about sitting and breathing in awkward ways. Meditation research explores how the brain works when we refrain from concentration, rumination and intentional thinking. Electrical brain waves suggest that mental activity during meditation is wakeful and relaxed.

“Given the popularity and effectiveness of meditation as a means of alleviating stress and maintaining good health, there is a pressing need for a rigorous investigation of how it affects brain function,” says Professor Jim Lagopoulos of Sydney University, Australia. Lagopoulos is the principal investigator of a joint study between his university and researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) on changes in electrical brain activity during nondirective meditation.

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January 26, 2011

How Brain Activity is Linked to Sleep

From: PsychCentral.com

Brain activity during times of wakefulness affects sleep and sleep quality. While researchers have been aware of this for some time, a clear understanding of how the mechanisms triggering sleep occur has remained largely unknown.

Now, a recent study has uncovered valuable insight into how the changeover from wakefulness to sleep occurs. This discovery potentially paves the way for a host of breakthroughs that could affect everything from sleeping aids to treatments for stroke and brain injury.

Led by James Krueger, Ph.D, Washington State University, the findings were recently published in the Journal of Applied Physiology and represent the most significant discovery of Krueger’s 36-year career focused on sleep research.

The study centered on a hypothesis that the major energy currency of the cell — ATP (adenosinetriphosphate) — is a key trigger for brain activity leading up to sleep. Specifically, researchers followed the method behind how ATP assists in the release of cytokines, the regulatory proteins for sleep.

“We know that brain activity is linked to sleep, but we’ve never known how,” Krueger said. “This gives us a mechanism to link brain activity to sleep. This has not been done before.”

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January 18, 2011

Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits

From: NYTimes.com

One day in 2007, Dr. Giulio Tononi lay on a hospital stretcher as an anesthesiologist prepared him for surgery. For Dr. Tononi, it was a moment of intellectual exhilaration. He is a distinguished chair in consciousness science at the University of Wisconsin, and for much of his life he has been developing a theory of consciousness. Lying in the hospital, Dr. Tononi finally had a chance to become his own experiment.

The anesthesiologist was preparing to give Dr. Tononi one drug to render him unconscious, and another one to block muscle movements. Dr. Tononi suggested the anesthesiologist first tie a band around his arm to keep out the muscle-blocking drug. The anesthesiologist could then ask Dr. Tononi to lift his finger from time to time, so they could mark the moment he lost awareness.
The anesthesiologist did not share Dr. Tononi’s excitement. “He could not have been less interested,” Dr. Tononi recalled. “He just said, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ and put me to sleep. He was thinking, ‘This guy must be out of his mind.’ ”

Dr. Tononi was not offended. Consciousness has long been the province of philosophers, and most doctors steer clear of their abstract speculations. After all, debating the finer points of what it is like to be a brain floating in a vat does not tell you how much anesthetic to give a patient.

But Dr. Tononi’s theory is, potentially, very different. He and his colleagues are translating the poetry of our conscious experiences into the precise language of mathematics.

To do so, they are adapting information theory, a branch of science originally applied to computers and telecommunications. If Dr. Tononi is right, he and his colleagues may be able to build a “consciousness meter” that doctors can use to measure consciousness as easily as they measure blood pressure and body temperature. Perhaps then his anesthesiologist will become interested.

“I love his ideas,” said Christof Koch, an expert on consciousness at Caltech. “It’s the only really promising fundamental theory of consciousness.”

Sizing Up Consciousness by its Bits: Read the entire article

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January 6, 2011

Consciousness and Cognition Journal: Table of Contents December 2010

The December issue of Consciousness and Cognition is available  online:

Volume 19, Issue 4, December 2010

Table of Contents:

REGULAR ARTICLES
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January 4, 2011

The Exploration of Meditation in the Neuroscience of Attention and Consciousness

A. Raffoneand N. Srinivasan

Article in Cognitive Processing: International Quarterly of Cognitive Science

Abstract: Many recent behavioral and neuroscientific studies have revealed the importance of investigating meditation states and traits to achieve an increased understanding of cognitive and affective neuroplasticity, attention and self-awareness, as well as for their increasingly recognized clinical relevance. The investigation of states and traits related to meditation has especially pronounced implications for the neuroscience of attention, consciousness, self-awareness, empathy and theory of mind. In this article we present the main features of meditation-based mental training and characterize the current scientific approach to meditation states and traits with special reference to attention and consciousness, in light of the articles contributed to this issue.

Click here for the full article

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December 7, 2010

The Same Old Consciousness

From: ErvinLaszlo.com:  It makes sense to paraphrase Einstein’s famous dictum in regard to consciousness. Our problem is the unsustainability of the world we have created, and we should be clear that we can’t solve this problem with the same kind of consciousness that gave rise to it.

But many people try to do just that, even the leaders of the world’s twenty richest and most powerful nations. The November 2010 meeting of the G20 in Seoul gave indisputable proof of it. Not only did the meeting fail to achieve its main objectives (among them rebalancing international trade and reaching an accommodation between the U.S. and South Korea), the objectives themselves proved to be out-of-date. They centered on re-stabilizing the same moribund economic and financial system that made the world unsustainable in the first place.

But why is the G20’s failure due to wrong consciousness? Because consciousness in the social, political, and cultural context is sum total of our view of the world, with its values, aspirations, and background assumptions. It’s the “paradigm” that underlies the way we think and the way we set our priorities. The consciousness of the G20 gives rise to an obsolete view of the world, with faulty values and outdated aspirations. The leaders view the world as the arena for a Darwinian struggle for survival, seen as a competition for growth in the economies of nations. Since assured growth cannot be achieved even by the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world by itself, the leaders recognize the need for some level and form of cooperation—as a means to an end. The end is for the rich nations to make sure that they remain rich.

Click here for the complete article.

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December 3, 2010

‘Consciousness signature’ discovered spanning the brain

From: Newscientist.com:   Electrodes implanted in the brains of people with epilepsy might have resolved an ancient question about consciousness.

Signals from the electrodes seem to show that consciousness arises from the coordinated activity of the entire brain. The signals also take us closer to finding an objective “consciousness signature” that could be used to probe the process in animals and people with brain damage without inserting electrodes.

Previously it wasn’t clear whether a dedicated brain area, or “seat of consciousness”, was responsible for guiding our subjective view of the world, or whether consciousness was the result of concerted activity across the whole brain.

Probing the process has been a challenge, as non-invasive techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging and EEG give either spatial or temporal information but not both. The best way to get both simultaneously is to implant electrodes deep inside the skull, but it is difficult to justify this in healthy people for ethical reasons.

Brainy opportunity

Now neuroscientist Raphaël Gaillard of INSERM in Gif sur Yvette, France, and colleagues have taken advantage of a unique opportunity. They have probed consciousness in 10 people who had intercranial electrodes implanted for treating drug-resistant epilepsy.

Click here for the entire article.

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November 12, 2010

Cosmic Symphony — A Deeper Look at Quantum Consciousness

From: ErvinLaszlo.com

The rise of quantum consciousness could be the biggest step our species has taken since it came down from the trees. It would bring us to a new stage of species maturity � and could also enable us to surmount the problems that threaten our life and our future.

But just what is quantum consciousness � QC? I have spoken about QC in my previous posts, but the question merits a further, deeper look.

First of all, what is consciousness? The commonsense assumption is that consciousness is a stream of experience produced by the brain. As long as the brain functions, there is consciousness; when the brain shuts down, consciousness vanishes. This, however, is not necessarily the case. It could be that our brain no more produces consciousness than the radio produces the symphony that comes through its speakers. The symphony, too, disappears when the radio is shut down, yet we know that it�s not produced by the radio. Both the radio and the brain pick up signals, transform them, and display the result in our stream of conscious experience.

Read the entire article

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November 11, 2010

What Makes You Uniquely You?

From: Discovermagazine.com

Feb 2009

Nobel laureate Gerald Edelman says your brain is one-of-a-kind in the history of the universe.

Some of the most profound questions in science are also the least tangible. What does it mean to be sentient? What is the self? When issues become imponderable, many researchers demur, but neuro­scientist Gerald Edelman dives right in.

A physician and cell biologist who won a 1972 Nobel Prize for his work describing the structure of antibodies, Edelman is now obsessed with the enigma of human consciousness—except that he does not see it as an enigma. In Edelman’s grand theory of the mind, consciousness is a biological phenomenon and the brain develops through a process similar to natural selection. Neurons proliferate and form connections in infancy; then experience weeds out the useless from the useful, molding the adult brain in sync with its environment.

Edelman first put this model on paper in the Zurich airport in 1977 as he was killing time waiting for a flight. Since then he has written eight books on the subject, the most recent being Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge. He is chairman of neurobiology at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego and the founder and director of the Neurosciences Institute, a research center in La Jolla, California, dedicated to unconventional “high risk, high payoff” science.

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November 5, 2010

6 More Reasons to Meditate

From: Psychology Today

Why meditate? Outside of religious contexts, the most common reason is stress management. But as these latest research findings demonstrate, meditation is much more than just a relaxation technique. Here are a half-dozen more good reasons to take up meditation.

To enhance concentration
Meditation has an undeserved reputation for being esoteric and difficult to learn. In truth, it’s really nothing more than the practice of focusing the mind intently on a particular thing or activity. It seems logical that regular meditation would hone a person’s powers of concentration, and a recent study in the Journal of Neuroscience found just that. In the study, three months of intensive meditation training led to improvements in attentional stability – the ability to sustain attention without frequent lapses.

Read the entire article

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November 4, 2010

Why Animals Are Biologically Conscious. The conscious brain has a long evolutionary history.

From: The Blog of Dr. Bernard J. Baars inPsychology Today

To the best of our knowledge, consciousness depends upon brains, and brains are biological organs. In a boxing match, a blow to the jaw often leads to a loss of consciousness, but the same impact to the torso does not. More specifically, scientists have long thought that human consciousness depends upon two large brain structures, the cortex and the thalamus. The daily cycle of waking, dreaming and sleep depends on distinctive global rhythm generators in the thalamus and cortex. (www.baars-gage.com, Chapter 8)

While deep brain nuclei control the daily sleep-waking cycle, the specific contents of conscious vision, like the sight of a coffee cup, are directly supported by known regions of the cortex and corresponding nuclei in the thalamus. Cortex and its satellites underlie speech and hearing, vision, hearing and touch, the ability to make decisions and to control our voluntary muscles.

In contrast, medical students have long learned that the two large lobes of the cerebellum, hanging from the rear of the cortex, can be damaged in humans without impairing consciousness significantly. Since the cerebellum has nearly the same numbers of neurons as cortex, the question therefore becomes: How it is that cortex supports conscious contents? Why not the cerebellum? (Figure 1).

Read the entire article

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November 3, 2010

Charlie Rose: The Brain Series

The Charlie Rose Brain Series consists of interviews with some of the most knowledgeable scientists and researchers studying the human brain, including Drs. Eric Kandel and Oliver Sacks. Each monthly episode examines different subjects of the brain, including perception, social interaction, aging and creativity.

For more information, please check the Charlie Rose Brain Series website.

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October 28, 2010

The Vegetative State and the Science of Consciousness

Article in British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

N. Shea, T. Bayne

Abstract

Consciousness in experimental subjects is typically inferred from reports and other forms of voluntary behaviour. A wealth of everyday experience confirms that healthy subjects do not ordinarily behave in these ways unless they are conscious. Investigation of consciousness in vegetative state patients has been based on the search for neural evidence that such broad functional capacities are preserved in some vegetative state patients. We call this the standard approach. To date, the results of the standard approach have suggested that some vegetative state patients might indeed be conscious, although they fall short of being demonstrative. The fact that some vegetative state patients show evidence of consciousness according to the standard approach is remarkable, for the standard approach to consciousness is rather conservative, and leaves open the pressing question of how to ascertain whether patients who fail such tests are conscious or not. We argue for a cluster-based ‘natural kind’ methodology that is adequate to that task, both as a replacement for the approach that currently informs research into the presence or absence of consciousness in vegetative state patients and as a methodology for the science of consciousness more generally.

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October 27, 2010

Hypnosis Leads to Heightened Brain Waves and Levels of Consciousness

From: Natural News

Many people are wary of hypnosis because they are not educated on the topic. Hypnosis is a natural state and many people reach this state of consciousness every day without even realizing it. When you drive a car, you are in a light state of hypnosis. You are in control, you have an increased ability to concentrate, and you are operating on autopilot without really realizing it. A great deal of research has been conducted on the hypnotic state and various states of consciousness.

Your brain has four different brain wave states: beta, alpha, theta, and delta. While you are reading this article, you are in the state of beta. You are alert and able to concentrate on this article. The beta state is normal wakening state. Alpha state is a relaxed state. You are able to access creativity and visualization. Theta state is a deeper state of relaxation; this is a common state of hypnosis and meditation. Theta allows you to access memories. You experience theta as you fall asleep and wake up every day. Lastly is delta, which occurs while sleeping. Delta allows your body to heal. You are able to access your subconscious mind during alpha, theta, and delta states and can also reach various depths of hypnosis (Tools for Wellness).

Read the entire article

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October 26, 2010

The Default Network: Your Mind, on Its Own Time

From The Dana Foundation:

Studies about the brain usually focus on neural activity during the completion of a specific task—remembering a series of words, for example. But over the last 20 years, researchers have been interested in what the brain does during periods of supposed inactivity. They discovered that when someone appears to be doing nothing at all, a network of brain regions—named the default network—is hard at work, allowing for the rich inner lives inside our heads. Applying what is known about the default network to diseases like Alzheimer’s allows for new possibilities for diagnosis and evaluation of treatments.

You’re lying in a brain scanner in the dark, looking up at a small white crosshair, left alone with your thoughts for the next six minutes. What goes through your mind? Perhaps you think about why you volunteered for this, or what you’ll do with the money you earn from this experiment. Perhaps you plan out the rest of your day, or start replaying a conversation from yesterday. New techniques in neuroimaging are helping scientists understand how your brain represents such internally directed and spontaneous thoughts.

Read the entire article

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October 5, 2009

Lucid Dreaming: A State of Consciousness with Features of Both Waking and Non-Lucid Dreaming

U. Voss, R. Holzmann, I. Tuin, J.A. Hobson
Article in Sleep

Abstract
Study Objectives: The goal of the study was to seek physiological correlates of lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming is a dissociated state with aspects of waking and dreaming combined in a way so as to suggest a specific alteration in brain physiology for which we now present preliminary but intriguing evidence. We show that the unusual combination of hallucinatory dream activity and wake-like reflective awareness and agentive control experienced in lucid dreams is paralleled by significant changes in electrophysiology.

Design: 19-channel EEG was recorded on up to 5 nights for each participant. Lucid episodes occurred as a result of pre-sleep autosuggestion.

Setting: Sleep laboratory of the Neurological Clinic, Frankfurt University.

Participants: Six student volunteers who had been trained to become lucid and to signal lucidity through a pattern of horizontal eye movements.

Measurements and Results: Results show lucid dreaming to have REM-like power in frequency bands delta and theta, and higher-than-REM activity in the gamma band, the between-states-difference peaking around 40 Hz. Power in the 40 Hz band is strongest in the frontal and frontolateral region. Overall coherence levels are similar in waking and lucid dreaming and significantly higher than in REM sleep, throughout the entire frequency spectrum analyzed. Regarding specific frequency bands, waking is characterized by high coherence in alpha, and lucid dreaming by increased delta and theta band coherence. In lucid dreaming, coherence is largest in frontolateral and frontal areas.

Conclusions: Our data show that lucid dreaming constitutes a hybrid state of consciousness with definable and measurable differences from waking and from REM sleep, particularly in frontal areas.

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