Unless you are currently suffering from a Borne Identity type of amnesia, at this moment, you will consciously know who you are, where you are and what you are reading this blog on; but where does this knowledge of ourselves and the world around us stem from?
For many years, this subject has somewhat baffled scientists, philosophers and psychologists resulting in endless studies and hypotheses aiming to explain the true origins of conscious awareness. Is conscious awareness a result of focused changes in brain connectivity? Or, is it a result of a broad network of brain activity?
Scientists believe that they have moved one step closer to fully understanding how our brain works in order to make us aware of the world around us. According to scientific researchers, the discovery of global changes in the connectivity of different areas during awareness challenges the original understanding that consciousness is the result of regional changes in neural brain activity, with research findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Biological theories of awareness can be categorized into two key groups: those that posit conscious perception is supported by specific, regional changes in brain activity, and those that suggest awareness results from broad changes in neural signaling across the brain. These groups are referred to as focal and global theories.
Scientific researchers from Vanderbilt University gathered data that would support either of these theories by designing specific experiments allowing them to characterize how connectivity between different brain regions was related to conscious awareness using the mathematical graph theory, which explores how different things within a network are connected.
24 volunteers’ brains were examined using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which is a technique used to measure brain activity by detecting changes in blood oxygenation. The study required volunteers to look out for a disk that briefly appeared on a screen during the scan. Volunteers were then asked whether they saw the image. Those who confidently answered that they did indeed see the disk were categorized as ‘aware,’ with the less confident answering group being categorized as ‘unaware.’
Both groups were then analyzed for differences in brain activity, and how different areas were communicating during conscious awareness.
Researchers did not find that one particular area or network became more connected during conscious awareness, lending support to the global theory of awareness.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this. For example, how would you explain how you know right now whether you are awake or not?
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