'On and Off' Switch Found for Human Consciousness

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The researchers found that a woman's consciousness could be "switched off." Reuters

'Consciousness' is a term that many scientists have been researching for more than a centrury, trying to figure out what it is and how it works. Some researchers, it appears, have discovered an "on/ off switch" for human consciousness.

A woman's consciousness was "switched off" by electrically stimulating a single area of the brain, said a group of scientist, Mohamed Koubeissi and his team at the George Washington University. The Journal of Epilepsy and Behaviour published the research which also claimed that the "switch" was discovered by accident when they were working on the cause of epileptic seizures in patients. The researchers wrote that they describe a region in the human brain where electrical stimulation reproducibly disrupted consciousness adding that the findings are considered important because of the fact that the "neural mechanisms that underlie consciousness are not fully understood." 

New Scientist reported that the claustrum was being targeted with electrodes. One electrode was placed near the claustrum, a structure that sits in the centre of the crain and acts as a synchronising mechanism for the two hemispheres.

Gizmodo explains, ​"Unlike a seizure, where a person's activity immediately stops, the patient seemed to 'slow down,' speaking more quietly and moving more slowly until she was silent and still, unresponsive to voice or visual stimulation." When she regained consciousness, after the electrical stimulation was turned off, she had no memory of what had happened.

Cristof Koch, an American neuroscientist, said, "​​This study is incredibly intriguing but it is one brick in a large edifice of consciousness that we're trying to build ... Ultimately, if we know how consciousness is created and which parts of the brain are involved then we can understand who has it and who doesn't."

The discovery of the on/ off switch has the potential to help those with epilepsy and in a semiconscious state.

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