The human consciousness is something that has been defined as a person’s ability to feel and experience. For years scientists and philosophers alike have been trying to pinpoint the source, and now they might have done it!
The human consciousness is extremely important and yet we really don’t know very much about it. It is currently believed that consciousness is composed of two main components: arousal and awareness. The first being regulated by the brainstem while the second has been a mystery for quite some time. We may now have a better understanding on this though, thanks to some information coming out of Harvard.
Michael D. Fox director of the Laboratory for Brain Network Imaging and Modulation says that this is the first time they have been able to find a connection between the brainstem region involved in arousal and regions involved in awareness. He mentions lots of small pieces of evidence actually came together in this to point to this network playing a role in consciousness. In the research referred to above, 36 patients with brainstem lesions revealed that those in comas had damage in a specific area of the brainstem while most conscious patients didn’t.
“If we zero in on the regions and network involved, can we someday wake someone up who is in a persistent vegetative state? That’s the ultimate question.” – Dr. Fox
Some patients were able to maintain consciousness despite injuries, while others went into comas. Out of the 36 total, twelve of them were unconscious and 24 were conscious. Ten of the twelve had damage in the rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum, a small area of the brainstem; all but one of the remaining 24 did not have damage in this area. This lead researchers to believe that this tiny part of the brain stem had a lot to do with maintaining consciousness.
We have gone from knowing almost nothing about human consciousness to identifying two specific cortex regions that could be essential for it. This is, of course, just the first step but it is a big one. More research will have to be done, but if this information proves to be correct over time it could lead to new treatment options for people in comas and vegetative states. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this information could be used to somehow bring one of your loved ones back to “life”?