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Συνεννόηση για Διαφύλαξη - Απόψεις
Συντάχθηκε απο τον/την Χρήστος Μπούμπουλης (Christos Boumpoulis)   
Παρασκευή, 29 Ιανουάριος 2016 23:42

First publication Κυριακή, 17 Μάιος 2015 00:25




ONE moment you're conscious, the next you're not. For the first time, researchers have switched off consciousness by electrically stimulating a single brain area.

Scientists have been probing individual regions of the brain for over a century, exploring their function by zapping them with electricity and temporarily putting them out of action. Despite this, they have never been able to turn off consciousness – until now.

Although only tested in one person, the discovery suggests that a single area – the claustrum – might be integral to combining disparate brain activity into a seamless package of thoughts, sensations and emotions. It takes us a step closer to answering a problem that has confounded scientists and philosophers for millennia – namely how our conscious awareness arises.

Many theories abound but most agree that consciousness has to involve the integration of activity from several brain networks, allowing us to perceive our surroundings as one single unifying experience rather than isolated sensory perceptions.

One proponent of this idea was Francis Crick, a pioneering neuroscientist who earlier in his career had identified the structure of DNA. Just days before he died in July 2004, Crick was working on a paper that suggested our consciousness needs something akin to an orchestra conductor to bind all of our different external and internal perceptions together.

With his colleague Christof Koch, at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, he hypothesised that this conductor would need to rapidly integrate information across distinct regions of the brain and bind together information arriving at different times. For example, information about the smell and colour of a rose, its name, and a memory of its relevance, can be bound into one conscious experience of being handed a rose on Valentine's day.

The pair suggested that the claustrum – a thin, sheet-like structure that lies hidden deep inside the brain – is perfectly suited to this job (Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B, doi.org/djjw5m).

It now looks as if Crick and Koch were on to something. In a study published last week, Mohamad Koubeissi at the George Washington University in Washington DC and his colleagues describe how they managed to switch a woman's consciousness off and on by stimulating her claustrum. The woman has epilepsy so the team were using deep brain electrodes to record signals from different brain regions to work out where her seizures originate. One electrode was positioned next to the claustrum, an area that had never been stimulated before.

When the team zapped the area with high frequency electrical impulses, the woman lost consciousness. She stopped reading and stared blankly into space, she didn't respond to auditory or visual commands and her breathing slowed. As soon as the stimulation stopped, she immediately regained consciousness with no memory of the event. The same thing happened every time the area was stimulated during two days of experiments (Epilepsy and Behavior, doi.org/tgn).

To confirm that they were affecting the woman's consciousness rather than just her ability to speak or move, the team asked her to repeat the word "house" or snap her fingers before the stimulation began. If the stimulation was disrupting a brain region responsible for movement or language she would have stopped moving or talking almost immediately. Instead, she gradually spoke more quietly or moved less and less until she drifted into unconsciousness. Since there was no sign of epileptic brain activity during or after the stimulation, the team is sure that it wasn't a side effect of a seizure.

Koubeissi thinks that the results do indeed suggest that the claustrum plays a vital role in triggering conscious experience. "I would liken it to a car," he says. "A car on the road has many parts that facilitate its movement – the gas, the transmission, the engine – but there's only one spot where you turn the key and it all switches on and works together. So while consciousness is a complicated process created via many structures and networks – we may have found the key."

Awake but unconscious

Counter-intuitively, Koubeissi's team found that the woman's loss of consciousness was associated with increased synchrony of electrical activity, or brainwaves, in the frontal and parietal regions of the brain that participate in conscious awareness. Although different areas of the brain are thought to synchronise activity to bind different aspects of an experience together, too much synchronisation seems to be bad. The brain can't distinguish one aspect from another, stopping a cohesive experience emerging.

Since similar brainwaves occur during an epileptic seizure, Koubeissi's team now plans to investigate whether lower frequency stimulation of the claustrum could jolt them back to normal. It may even be worth trying for people in a minimally conscious state, he says. "Perhaps we could try to stimulate this region in an attempt to push them out of this state."

Anil Seth, who studies consciousness at the University of Sussex, UK, warns that we have to be cautious when interpreting behaviour from a single case study. The woman was missing part of her hippocampus, which was removed to treat her epilepsy, so she doesn't represent a "normal" brain, he says.


Click (2006) Trailer




Here come the rice-grain-sized brain implants: Stanford discovers way of beaming power to microimplants deep inside your body

Stanford electrical engineer and biological implant mastermind, Ada Poon, has discovered a way of wirelessly transmitting power to tiny, rice-grain-sized implants that are deep within the human body. This could well be the breakthrough that finally allows for the creation of smaller pacemakers, body-wide sensor networks, and a new class of “electroceutical” devices that sit deep in the human brain and stimulate neurons directly, providing an alternative for drug-based therapies for depression, Alzheimer’s, and other neurological ailments. There will of course be the potential for elective, transhumanist applications as well.

The key to this discovery is a new method of wirelessly transmitting power, dubbed “mid-field powering.” As the name implies, mid-field power transfer uses radio waves that sit between near-field (tens of gigahertz) and far-field (tens of megahertz). Near-field radiation can penetrate human flesh, but can only effectively transfer power over a short distance (millimeters). Far-field waves can transfer power over longer distances, but are unfortunately scattered or absorbed by human skin. To create mid-field waves, Poon created a patterned antenna (pictured below) that generates special near-field waves. When these special waves hit the skin, they turn into mid-field waves that can then penetrate a few more centimeters of flesh.

Stanford engineer invents safe way to transfer energy to medical chips in the body

Currently, as there’s no good way of (safely) wirelessly transmitting power through human flesh, implants generally need to contain a large battery, which in turn makes the implant way too large to embed deep within the body. As a result, most implants so far have been either large-battery pacemakers that sit just under the skin (with long electrodes that reach into the heart), or cochlear (ear) implants that are near enough to the skin that near-field power transfer is feasible. With the advent of mid-field power transfer, Poon and her friends at Stanford have created rice-grain size implants that can be embedded directly into the heart to function as a pacemaker, or attached to a nerve bundle.

Poon has tested the technology in pigs and rabbits, and humans are next. Stanford says that independent testing has shown the radiation produced by mid-field power transfer is well within safety limits for human exposure. In short, the prognosis for human testing of these microimplants is good. [DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1403002111 - "Wireless power transfer to deep-tissue microimplants"]

The question is, what might we do with such microimplants? Both heart and brain pacemakers (for Alzheimer’s) are the obvious first port of call. Beyond that, though, microimplants would make great sensors; you could implant them all over your body (brain, heart, liver, gut) and have them regularly report that organ’s health back to your doctor (or smartphone app). As we begin to learn more about the brain, we might attach these implants to specific nerve channels in the brain, to boost or degrade specific neuron behavior. We might boost the ability of the hippocampus to create long-term memories, to improve learning — but block the signals that tell synapses to uptake serotonin, mitigating depression.



The Magna Cortica: A bill of rights for our future, implant-enhanced brains

In 1215 the feudal barons in England imposed the Magna Carta upon King John. The document was designed not only to proclaim their liberties and protect their rights, but to constrain the seemingly unlimited scope of the King’s will. In a nod to the prescience of the Magna Carta and social expediency it spawned, a group of neurally-inclined futurists have begun to draft a similar constitution for our time. This new “Magna Cortica” has set for itself the task of defining a set of rights and restrictions to preempt potential abuses in the rapidly growing field of cognitive enhancement.

The Magna Cortica

1. The right to self-knowledge

2. The right to self-modification

3. The right to refuse modification

4. The right to modify/refuse to modify your children

5. The right to know who has been modified

The five points of the Magna Cortica, drawn up by Jamais Cascio of The Institute for the Future, may remind some of Issac Asimov’s famous Laws of Robotics. The Cortica represents an excellent starting point. The rights to self knowledge, and to seek or to refuse self modification, appear somewhat obvious but provide the necessary foundation. The fourth point, the right to modify or refuse the same for our children, would increasingly loom in direct contradiction to the previous points as any child matured, but similarly lays the groundwork for where we might later set this bar.

The proposed right to know who has been modified seems to be the one that may need further refinement. Clearly patrons would like to be assured that their tour bus driver is still capable of achieving sufficient REM sleep, but what one does at age, and independent of external effect, should ideally remain within the province of self. The problem with full public disclosure of who has been modded with what is not so much it’s futility, but rather — as we have seen in digital rights management — it is the greater injustice wrought through any attempt to enforce it. The right to know what others might have done to their brains, essentially their medical history, presently stands in direct contradiction to the social behemoth we might affectionately call the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) monster. That barely even knocks upon the door of other possible ethical incongruency.

The right to reasonable free speech, for example, does not exist independent from context. What we might speak (or type) can not be extricated from who it is spoken to, when and where it is spoken, and in our progressive times, by who speaks it. Might we therefore expect any more or less right to its complement, the right to non-disclosure? In other words the right not to speak and to maintain privacy? As we maintained in a recent post on stem cells, ethics does not just involve contradictions, it is the science of them. The best we can offer for now is to do exactly what we are doing: propose ideals on a public forum and let them compete for our minds as the hardware concerning them is realized and becomes commonplace.

In that spirit we have asked for additional comment from Ayden Jacob the President ofThe Academy of Medical Ethics in Bio-Innovation. AMEBI has been grappling with the balance between increasing human capabilities while remaining within the bioethical zone of acceptable enhancements. With regards to the Magna Cortica, Ayden had this to say:

“It is with fervor and zeal that scientists, and society as whole, approaches this new horizon of innovation in the brain. We long to enhance our cognitive abilities at all costs, even when pharmacologic intervention may hinder us with unpleasant side effects. Philosophically speaking, man is made to develop into the greatest Man we can become. Scientifically speaking, man can become the most influential and powerful Man when technology and physiology are linked together within the human brain. As we aim to increase our cognitive abilities, whether that be to think smarter, faster, quicker or longer, it will be important to allow science to explore various opportunities at enhancing the brain’s lurking power. And to accomplish such a goal, many may feel we are tainting Nature. This is the debate. But it is only right that we give science the room, freedom, and ability to push us to the next level of human capabilities.”

There are significant concerns beyond the inter-citizen familiarity issues we have described. In particular, the very real problem of discordance between patient and device/implant maker needs to be dealt with. An example is the trouble one test subject had with his deep brain stimulation device in a trial conducted by St. Jude Medical in cooperation with Stanford. The video below serves as a cautionary warning to some of the issues that can arise with any transformative neurotechnology: Namely, if your brain’s functionality is significantly altered by a device, do you still own your brain and the work that it does?

DBS Treatment Resistant Depression


During our days, humanity suffers from wars, poverty, illiteracy and unfreedom.

Those four major problems are connected with their root causes.

Societies and their leaders try to find those root causes and alter them.

The outcome of this synchronized effort seems like too poor.

There is a huge illegal worldwide trading of narcotics; there is a huge worldwide trading of arms; economic markets still administrate, beyond any essential social control many socially sensitive social parameters; there is an enormous lack of mutual understanding within bilateral and multilateral international relationships; the human rights together with the fundamental human freedoms tend to become a quasi joke; there is a severe degradation of the quality of the democratic foundations almost in every country; the value of human life tend to drop down to 80 euros; the legitimate political dissidence together with the legitimate human rights activism are being internationally treated like quasi heinous crimes; the cruelty of colonialism seems like wasn't truly eliminated; the rage of all those colonially victimized, in the past, Nations and tribes, probably, tend to destroy the entire humanity.

For coping with all those big problems, leaders need to have multiple skills and appropriate personal characters. Otherwise, they are, unavoidably, going to employ shameful and cruel methods in order to cover up their unfitness to their leadership role (e.g. they are going to fabricate false alibi; they are going to silence, debilitate, and even, assassinate innocent human beings, etc).

The “key” for coping with the above mentioned big collective problems, I believe that, it is hidden in the intersection of excellence and kindness. This intersection is “reach” in creative human emotions.

It is impossible for one, to be able to cope with problems of such magnitude, without being able to feel empathy for each and every human being, with no exception.

Neither violence, nor, lies, can ever truly resolve any existing collective problem. Instead, violence and lies, they do worsens the existing problems and creates new ones.

Furthermore, the universal inner human property of “neural plasticity” makes, unavoidably, the supposed benefits of each and every negative, cruel and selfish behavior and/or choice, to swiftly deteriorate over time.

Whoever disagrees with the above mentioned opinions may study history: How, the past choices of violence and/or injustice and their corresponding current anthropological characteristics of the choosers, correlate with each other?

Honesty is the Best Policy

It seems to me like being the leaders' rational potential choices, if they simultaneously put down all the weapons and the quasi weapons and retract all militants. And then, if they let excellence and kindness work for the normalization of the international relationships, as well as, for the normalization of the distribution of the spiritual and material wealth among the Nations of our world.


A just Peace, seems like being the one and only way out.


Note: the photos were found here, here and here.


Τελευταία Ενημέρωση στις Σάββατο, 30 Ιανουάριος 2016 19:04