Harvard Scientists may have located conciousness?

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#1
http://www.sciencealert.com/harvard...pinpointed-the-neural-source-of-consciousness

Scientists have struggled for millennia to understand human consciousness - the awareness of one's existence. Despite advances in neuroscience, we still don't really know where it comes from, and how it arises.

But researchers think they might have finally figured out its physical origins, after pinpointing a network of three specific regions in the brain that appear to be crucial to consciousness.

It's a pretty huge deal for our understanding of what it means to be human, and it could also help researchers find new treatments for patients in vegetative states.

"For the first time, we have found a connection between the brainstem region involved in arousal and regions involved in awareness, two prerequisites for consciousness," said lead researcher Michael Fox from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre at Harvard Medical School.

"A lot of pieces of evidence all came together to point to this network playing a role in human consciousness."

Consciousness is generally thought of as being comprised of two critical components - arousal and awareness.

Researchers had already shown that arousal is likely regulated by the brainstem - the portion of the brain that links up with the spinal cord - seeing as it regulates when we sleep and wake, and our heart rate and breathing.

Awareness has been more elusive. Researchers have long thought that it resides somewhere in the cortex - the outer layer of the brain - but no one has been able to pinpoint where.

Now the Harvard team has identified not only the specific brainstem region linked to arousal, but also two cortex regions, that all appear to work together to form consciousness.

To figure this out, the team analysed 36 patients in hospital with brainstem lesions - 12 of them were in a coma (unconscious) and 24 were defined as being conscious.

The researchers then mapped their brainstems to figure out if there was one particular region that could explain why some patients had maintained consciousness despite their injuries, while others had become comatose.

What they found was one small area of the brainstem - known as the rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum - that was significantly associated with coma. Ten out of the 12 unconscious patients had damage in this area, while just one out of the 24 conscious patients did.

That suggests that this tiny region of the brainstem is important for consciousness, but it's not the full story.

To figure out which other parts of the brain were fully connected to this region, the team looked at a brain map - or connectome - of a healthy human brain, which shows all the different connections that we know of so far in our brains (you can see a connectome in the image at the top of this story).

They identified two areas in the cortex that were linked up to the rostral dorsolateral pontine tegmentum, and were most likely to play a role in regulating consciousness. One was in the left, ventral, anterior insula (AI), and the other was in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC).

Both of these regions have been linked by previous studies to arousal and awareness, but this is the first time they've been connected to the brainstem.

The team double-checked their work by looking at fMRI scans of 45 patients in comas or vegetative states, and showed that all of them had the network between these three regions disrupted.

It's a pretty exciting first step, but the researchers acknowledge that they now need to verify their find across a larger group of patients.

Independent teams will also need to confirm their results before we can say for sure that these three regions are the physical source of consciousness in our brains.

In the meantime, the research will hopefully lead to new treatment options for patients in comas and vegetative states, who might have otherwise healthy brains but simply can't regain consciousness.

"This is most relevant if we can use these networks as a target for brain stimulation for people with disorders of consciousness," said Fox.

"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."

The research has been published in Neurology.
 
#3
I think it's important to note that correlation doesn't imply causation. Obviously just because those spots are associated with consciousness doesn't mean at all that they cause or produce it. So as far as the questions that are asked a lot on this site I'm not sure this would change much.
 
#4
I think it's important to note that correlation doesn't imply causation.
The hard problem is not really a "problem" to incompetent journalists. We literally get a dozen or so articles with titles claiming to solve the riddle per year; it's click bait at its finest. The researchers themselves are usually not as bold, but the articles end up being posted here (and in other forums) before anyone bothers to actually read the papers. One of our recurrent trolls also has a tendency to dig up sensationalist headlines as well.

But, to be fair, the knife cuts both ways as we saw with the headlines that heralded the results of AWARE I.
 
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#5
I posted it to see what kind of theories or opinions you guys had about it, I'm just a hapless beginner
 
#6
The hard problem is not really a "problem" to incompetent journalists. We literally get a dozen or so articles with titles claiming to solve the riddle per year; it's click bait at its finest. The researchers themselves are usually not as bold, but the articles end up being posted here (and in other forums) before anyone bothers to actually read the papers. One of our recurrent trolls also has a tendency to dig up sensationalist headlines as well.

But, to be fair, the knife cuts both ways as we saw with the headlines that heralded the results of AWARE I.
The full article is behind a paywall, but here's the short version of the conclusion:

"Injury to a small region in the pontine tegmentum is significantly associated with coma. This brainstem site is functionally connected to 2 cortical regions, the AI and pACC, which become disconnected in disorders of consciousness. This network of brain regions may have a role in the maintenance of human consciousness."

So obviously not very similar to what the science journalist wrote.
 
#8
Correlation doesn't preclude causation either.
But no one was suggesting that it does. In this article the writer is directly associating what is a correlation the scientists found with the physical origin of consciousness. I never said it precluded it, only that it doesn't imply it, because the writer seemed to think that was the case.
 
#9
I posted it to see what kind of theories or opinions you guys had about it, I'm just a hapless beginner
http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2013/08/consciousness-cannot-be-emergent.html

If you study a lump of brain cells, neither the laws of physics nor any biochemical reactions can explain why subjective experiences feel the way they do. Subjective experiences are known only in terms of subjective experience, not in terms of mathematics, or molecular models, or physics, or chemistry, or biology, or psychology, or sociology. Red looks red. Physics can tell you what wavelengths of light look red, and chemistry can tell you how light is sensed by the retina, and neurology can tell you how the signals from the optic nerve are processed by the brain, but none of that will ever tell a colorblind person what red looks like. Consciousness and physical processes are fundamentally different things.

Thinking you will be able to explain how consciousness emerges by understanding more about a massive number of nerve cells is like trying to make a ham sandwich from bricks. You can't make a ham sandwich from bricks and piling up more and more bricks will never get you any closer to having a ham sandwich.

The subjective experience of consciousness cannot be understood in physical terms therefore, consciousness cannot be a result of any physical process. Consciousness is a fundamentally different thing from any physical process.​


More here:
http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-materialist-explanation-of.html
 
#10
But no one was suggesting that it does. In this article the writer is directly associating what is a correlation the scientists found with the physical origin of consciousness. I never said it precluded it, only that it doesn't imply it, because the writer seemed to think that was the case.
So in a case like this, how would you differentiate between correlation that suggests causation from correlation that does not?
 
#11
Sorry, but I have become utterly cynical about this kind of report.

"A lot of pieces of evidence all came together to point to this network playing a role in human consciousness."
Let's replace it with another statement which has the advantage of being unquestionably true:

Scientists have discovered that the organ that is found inside the head, definitely plays a role in human consciousness.
Perhaps that comparison points out how vacuous such observations are in the total absence of a viable theory of consciousness - one that embraces the Hard Problem, rather than turning it into qualia vectors!

Although such knowledge might well be useful in dealing with people with brain damage, does either statement really tell us much about consciousness?

My feeling is that you need some sort of theory of consciousness - such as the filter hypothesis - to get anywhere at all.

David
 
#12
So in a case like this, how would you differentiate between correlation that suggests causation from correlation that does not?
Again, nobody suggested that correlation precludes causation. The writer did seem to suggest that correlation, in this case, is implying causation, so I noted that that's an unreasonable thing for him to assume. There's no need to differentiate - no one should make a call one way or the other, based on this evidence. What I'm saying is that they found a correlation. We ought to take it as a correlation and not presume that that means something beyond that until they do a further study/studies on it. I am in no way assuming that correlation precludes causation, which is in and of itself an absurd statement obviously.
 
#13
Again, nobody suggested that correlation precludes causation. The writer did seem to suggest that correlation, in this case, is implying causation, so I noted that that's an unreasonable thing for him to assume. There's no need to differentiate - no one should make a call one way or the other, based on this evidence. What I'm saying is that they found a correlation. We ought to take it as a correlation and not presume that that means something beyond that until they do a further study/studies on it. I am in no way assuming that correlation precludes causation, which is in and of itself an absurd statement obviously.
I'm not sure what you were saying then since isn't that exactly what the article said as well? From the article:

It's a pretty exciting first step, but the researchers acknowledge that they now need to verify their find across a larger group of patients.

Independent teams will also need to confirm their results before we can say for sure that these three regions are the physical source of consciousness in our brains.
You seemed to be disagreeing that the methods the authors were using would be suitable to contribute to the process of figuring out if the correlation indicated an actual causal relationship or not. But maybe you weren't. In other words, that they did more than merely notice a correlation but are using multiple streams to attempt to test if the relationship was causal or not. Note, I haven;t read the full paper, so maybe the article got some of it wrong.
 
#14
First sentence from the second paragraph:
But researchers think they might have finally figured out its physical origins, after pinpointing a network of three specific regions in the brain that appear to be crucial to consciousness.
Nothing else I read in the article, including the quotes from the researchers, seemed to make this claim. Correlation sure, causation... doesn't seem so to me.

Again, as Dante has pointed out repeatedly, nothing precludes a causal relationship. The article only seems to point to a correlation. I'm not even sure a correlation has been scientifically established as yet.
 
#15
I'm not sure what you were saying then since isn't that exactly what the article said as well? From the article:



You seemed to be disagreeing that the methods the authors were using would be suitable to contribute to the process of figuring out if the correlation indicated an actual causal relationship or not. But maybe you weren't. In other words, that they did more than merely notice a correlation but are using multiple streams to attempt to test if the relationship was causal or not. Note, I haven;t read the full paper, so maybe the article got some of it wrong.
The title of the article is: "Harvard Scientists think they've pinpointed the physical source of consciousness". As Silence pointed out, the author writes that the researchers think they may have found the "physical origin", which again, based on what I read when I read the actual journal article synopsis, is not what the researchers think.

To be clear I do not at all disagree with the methods the authors were using; the key is that they were not attempting in any way to establish causality. They were literally just checking to see if there was a correlation. I am criticizing the author of the linked article for exaggerating, as those writers seem to often do (which E. Flowers noted), not the actual researchers or their methods. I don't think the researchers, at least in their summarized and preview conclusion, made any claims that seems outlandish based on their results to me.
 
#16
The Connectome indeed. As if giving the brain a sexy new 'makeover' is going to help. And what about the case of the French man missing 90 % of his "connectome?" No offence to Baccarat but it's utter tosh. However, I suspect the researchers will get lots of lovely funding and Arouet and Malf will get some mileage out of it.
 
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#19
So in a case like this, how would you differentiate between correlation that suggests causation from correlation that does not?
Well think of a normal physical situation. Suppose you start with the correlation that people who eat no fruit and veg get scurvy. Then you test different chemicals in the fruit and discover that one of them is ascorbic acid in them, so you follow through how this chemical is used in the body. Every step is physical.

Now consider the task of turning a correlate of consciousness into a physical explanation. However many steps there are, one of them has got to assert that such and such a physical action produces an experience - but how do you do that?

David
 
#20
Once again, someone is taking the reaction to one study in exclusion of anything else to dispute the legit findings of a study contrary to their belief system. Logic does not work this way. Any explanation of consciousness must account for the findings of studies like Aware, if it does not, then it is not a valid theory. The other theory exists, and it is a study and it has valid conclusions. If you do not explain this with scientific research and not utter conjecture what you are saying is worthless.

What I am saying is that Aware clearly indicated that there was some activity "consciousness" which happened after the brain had shut down. The conclusion of this does not explain this at all. Therefore putting the two results together forces the conclusion that either something was not done right in the aware study, a statement for which there is no evidence, or the consciousness is not produced by the areas discussed in this study, leading to more of a radio receiver explanation. This is causation. You can't ignore things that are not favorable to you to come to the conclusion that you want.
 
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