Tuesday, September 30, 2003

NYT Magazine: Vegetative states and the nature of consciousness

What if There Is Something Going On in There?
The results of the study offered hints about the nature of consciousness. High-level thought -- like language and memory -- occurs in networks of neurons located at the surface of the brain in a thin layer of tissue called the cortex. These networks also form loops, however, that dip deep within the brain, where they converge and then return to the surface. According to a theory proposed by Rodolfo Llinas of New York University, a special set of neurons deep in the brain synchronizes the activity of the loops of higher thought. The harmony of all the different thought processes gives rise to a coherence that we call consciousness. Schiff and his colleagues say they suspect that when a number of these loops or the region that synchronizes them is damaged, the brain slips into a vegetative state. Yet even after extensive brain damage, they argue, some of the loops may still function, though in isolation -- like fragments of mind.

I've long felt that consciousness was simpler than commonly assumed, and was as much illusion (and delusion) as it was a "real" state. So I find this fascinating ...

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