Scientists digging deep inside the human brain may have found a switch that can literally make you fall asleep. It might take us a step forward in solving the mystery of exactly how our consciousness works and how its awareness arises. In a study published last week, Mohamad Koubeissi and his colleagues at George Washington University described how accidentally they managed to switch the consciousness on and off of a woman (having epilepsy) by electrically stimulating her claustrum.
The scientists were performing an experiment to monitor brain signals and try to pinpoint the area of a patient's brain that was causing her seizures using deep brain electrodes. One of the electrodes was positioned near the claustrum- a thin sheet of neurons running between major structures of the brain. When they buzzed the area by high frequency electrical impulses, unexpectedly, the woman lost consciousness and started to stare blankly into space. Not only did she fail to respond to audio and visual commands, but her breathing slowed down too. As soon as they stopped the stimulation, she regained her consciousness with no memory of the event happened.
They continued this experiment for more than two days to confirm that they were affecting the woman’s consciousness rather than her ability to speak and move. During this period, they asked her to perform certain tasks such as repeating a word or snapping her fingers just before the stimulation began. What they observed is she spoke more quietly and moved very little before she drifted into unconsciousness.
This discovery, though tested on one person, might be helpful in completely understanding how our brain actually works. What do you think about this? Share with us in comments below.