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.