New research published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, shows that conscious brain activity seems to be linked to the brain’s “pleasure chemical”, dopamine.
The fact that the neural mechanisms that underpin consciousness disorders are difficult to characterise makes these conditions hard to diagnose and treat. Brain-imaging has established that a network of interconnected brain regions, known as the default mode network, is involved in self-awareness. This network has also been shown to be impaired in anaesthesia and after brain damage that causes disorders of consciousness. Importantly, it seems to be crucial to conscious experience.
Consciousness is arguably the most important scientific topic there is. Without consciousness, there would after all be no science. But while we all know what it is like to be conscious – meaning that we have personal awareness and respond to the world around us – it has turned out to be near impossible to explain exactly how it arises from the hardware of the brain. This is dubbed the “hard” problem of consciousness.
Solving the hard problem is a matter of great scientific curiosity. But so far, we haven’t even solved the “easy” problems of explaining which brain systems give rise to conscious experiences in general – in humans or other animals. This is of huge clinical importance. Disorders of consciousness are a common consequence of severe brain injury and include comas and vegetative states. And we all experience temporary loss of awareness when under anaesthesia during an operation.
The original study—Dopaminergic brainstem disconnection is common to pharmacological and pathological consciousness perturbation is available here>> https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/118/30/e2026289118.full.pdf
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