Dr Zirui Huang | How the Brain’s Functional Geometry Could Encode Dimensions of the Mind
About this episode
The concept of consciousness extends beyond mere philosophical pondering. Scientists are currently exploring how conscious experience emerges from electrochemical processes within the brain. Unraveling this mystery holds significant implications for brain health, encompassing phenomena such as comas, surgical anesthesia, and the altered perceptions observed in schizophrenia. Emerging research indicates that consciousness is not localized to a single brain region, but rather arises as a result of network interactions. Understanding the intricate connections between brain regions that contribute to consciousness has remained a challenging endeavor. Read More
Functional MRI (fMRI) is a powerful imaging technique that allows scientists to measure brain activity by tracking changes in blood flow. This technique provides researchers with a unique vantage point to observe and understand the workings of consciousness.
In the realm of consciousness, there are several dimensions to consider. These dimensions encompass the brain’s ability to be awake, known as arousability. Additionally, they involve our firsthand experiences and awareness, such as perceiving the vibrant redness of a rose. Lastly, they encompass the intricate process of sensory organization, where sights, sounds, and feelings intricately intertwine to create a unified conscious experience.
For decades, these dimensions were just considered conceptually, without any mapping to brain activity itself. Dr Zirui Huang, Professor Mashour and Professor Hudetz at the University of Michigan sought to find these dimensions in the geometry of the brain.
In conventional brain imaging studies, scientists often focus on examining specific, well-defined brain areas. Instead of investigating clearly delineated regions, Huang, Mashour and Hudetz explored the gradients across different brain areas.
In order to create a comprehensive representation of the brain’s gradients associated with consciousness, the research team utilized fMRI data from study participants in various states, including wakefulness, anesthesia-induced unconsciousness, pathological unconsciousness, and individuals with psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia.
By analyzing recordings from 400 distinct brain regions, the team organized them into gradients and examined how they varied in relation to these states or diagnoses. Their findings revealed three gradients that corresponded to the dimensions of consciousness, namely arousability, awareness, and sensory organization.
Hudetz, Professor of Anesthesiology and Director of the Center for Consciousness Science, explained how conscious states can now potentially be mapped directly within the brain. This groundbreaking finding opens up a new perspective on the relationship between consciousness and the brain.
Mashour, Professor and Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology and founder of the Center for Consciousness Science, described the study as a significant contribution to the field. It aligns with the mission of achieving a deeper understanding of consciousness while advancing clinical care.
The team’s recent study brings us one step closer to understanding the complex neural underpinnings of consciousness.
Original Article Reference
Summary of the paper ‘Functional geometry of the cortex encodes dimensions of consciousness’, in Nature Communications, doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-35764-7
For further information, you can connect with Zirui Huang at firstname.lastname@example.org
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