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Medicine

New Tool To Measure Consciousness 151

Posted by samzenpus
from the hello-in-there dept.
bmahersciwriter writes "The line between consciousness and non-consciousness is thin, hard to define and, as the Terri Schiavo case taught us, often rife with ethical quandaries. A research team is developing a tool that will be able to quantify just how conscious a person is, which could prove to be quite useful for research and clinical practices. From the article: 'The metric relies on the idea that consciousness involves widespread communication between different areas of the brain, with each region performing specialized functions. Loss of consciousness during sleep or anaesthesia, or from brain injury, may be caused by the disengagement of brain regions from one another.'"
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New Tool To Measure Consciousness

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  • by korbulon (2792438) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @05:48AM (#44572005)
    To determine if you're eligible to vote. Or have kids. Or be allowed outside your cage.
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by DNS-and-BIND (461968)
      No way. No no no no no. The potential for racism is far, far too high. Better to bury this tech deep where nobody will ever find it, and to shame the creators publically so badly that nobody will attempt this sort of thing again.
    • by ultranova (717540)

      To determine if you're eligible to vote. Or have kids. Or be allowed outside your cage.

      One says innocent people should be disenfranchised, sterilized and imprisoned if they fail an IQ test, and others think it's +5 Insightful rather than -5 So Hitler's Still Alive After All.

      The next time you wonder why things are going to Hell and your government is flirting with fascism, that's why.

      • by korbulon (2792438)

        Actually I was kinda hoping for +5 Funny.

        Given the sort of comments I'm seeing here, I'll be sure to use <sarcasm> </sarcasm> delimiters next time round.

        • by richlv (778496)

          pffffffffft. i only opened this article to figure out whether this works as a drunkenness test. and i actually am 100% serious :)

  • by joelleo (900926) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @05:55AM (#44572023)

    congress

  • by vomitology (2780489) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @06:01AM (#44572041)
    I wonder how long till my ATC (Average Time Conscious) shows up in my annual review...
    • I wonder how long till my ATC (Average Time Conscious) shows up in my annual review...

      That's the least of your problems. Because electrocorticography is not covered by the company health plan, we've graciously decided to assist employees with this expense by recruiting a nurse practitioner with a power drill and a wiring contractor we found in the lobby whose hands looked pretty clean.

    • by Aguazul2 (2591049)

      I wonder how long till my ATC (Average Time Conscious) shows up in my annual review...

      Selecting for some metric never works out well -- ask the Chinese whether melamine powder is good in milk. So the real question is whether Tetris will give you a good ATC score.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @06:12AM (#44572079) Journal

    Unless my memory is grossly faulty here, Schiavo was considered an atypically unambiguous case medically (with massive amounts of brain that just weren't present anymore, much less electrically active or not); but was a sordid story in messy family feuds being adopted by culture warriors, diagnosis-by-video being performed by histrionic congressmen, and whatnot.

    A better understanding of the neurological correlates of consciousness would certainly be a welcome development; but it would never have saved that farce.

    • Schiavo was considered an atypically unambiguous case medically (with massive amounts of brain that just weren't present anymore, much less electrically active or not)

      You mean to say that Terri Schiavo was kind of alive-o [miaminewtimes.com]?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I think the summary was referring to the Schiavo case in terms of "rife with ethical quandaries" in relation to people's right to die, or in the Schiavo case the right to let someone die even though they can't give consent. Remember that whenever politics is involved, and the Schiavo case was rife with political grandstanding and opportunity, that anyone whose position is different from yours is being unethical.

      The Schiavo family was put through a lot, especially by members of the Schiavo family. When the p

      • by EmagGeek (574360) <gterich@aol.LISPcom minus language> on Thursday August 15, 2013 @07:36AM (#44572329) Journal

        There was no ethical quandary in the Schiavo case. She was not conscious, and more or less had no brain to be conscious with. It was a clear cut case of a lost cause where the body was only being kept alive to fuel the aforementioned family feud (her parents were not a big fan of her husband, IIRC, and did not want him inheriting her estate, so they fought the issue until her estate was gone and her husband bankrupt, then finally let it go).

        • by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @08:25AM (#44572469)

          There was no ethical quandary in the Schiavo case. She was not conscious, and more or less had no brain to be conscious with. It was a clear cut case of a lost cause where the body was only being kept alive to fuel the aforementioned family feud (her parents were not a big fan of her husband, IIRC, and did not want him inheriting her estate, so they fought the issue until her estate was gone and her husband bankrupt, then finally let it go).

          The Schiavo case was an ethical travesty. Why was she kept hooked up all that time? Because of "God". It was "immoral" to "kill" her.

          Bullshit. "God" wanted her to go ahead and die. If He hadn't, He would have kept her alive, even without the equipment. It wasn't like this was temporary life support to give her time to heal. It was a prison that she couldn't escape from - worse than Guantanamo, worse than Abu Graibh, worse than the worst prison ever built by pre-technological man. Whatever consciousness she might have had was trapped in a body with no ability to move, to interact, and even to sense, for the most part. If she had been revivable after all that, she probably would have been insane. If I was to do deliberately what they did to her, "torture" would be the least unkind word used.

          And for what? If you believe that Jesus had a place waiting for her, why forcibly restrain her from joining him? Even if you believe she was destined for Hell, she was already there. What was she supposed to be doing in there? Meditating on her sins? We don't grant as much reflection time for mass-murderers. Not in Florida, which is nearly as Old-Testament as Texas when it comes to capital crimes.

          If there is any mercy in the Universe, God or no God, her consciousness fled long before they pulled the plug. Because with friends like those, who needs demonic enemies?

          • by omnichad (1198475)

            It wasn't like this was temporary life support to give her time to heal. It was a prison that she couldn't escape from - worse than Guantanamo, worse than Abu Graibh, worse than the worst prison ever built by pre-technological man

            Not if she wasn't conscious. Was there any reason to believe she might have been?

            • It wasn't like this was temporary life support to give her time to heal. It was a prison that she couldn't escape from - worse than Guantanamo, worse than Abu Graibh, worse than the worst prison ever built by pre-technological man

              Not if she wasn't conscious. Was there any reason to believe she might have been?

              Where do we go when the lights go out? I certainly don't know.

              According to Schiavo's so-called "defenders", she was "conscious". According to the autopsy, her brain was smaller than a dog's. But dogs have consciousness, regardless of whether they have "souls".

              As for me, if there was even the thinnest thread tying me to a functionally-dead body and brain, I hope my friends would be merciful enough to let it snap. Immortal soul or poof-and-we're-gone, what they did to her might have been "life", but it certai

    • Unless my memory is grossly faulty here, Schiavo was considered an atypically unambiguous case medically (with massive amounts of brain that just weren't present anymore, much less electrically active or not); but was a sordid story in messy family feuds being adopted by culture warriors, diagnosis-by-video being performed by histrionic congressmen, and whatnot.

      No, your memory is spot on. In fact, I've been paying attention off and on to these cases since the Karen Ann Quinlan [wikipedia.org] case in the mid 1970's, and o

      • by sjames (1099)

        Exactly. It can only determine the current condition, it cannot indicate if later consciousness if possible or likely. In Schiavo, there was no need for the device, the answer was medically obvious.

        It looks like it will be a useful tool, but it wouldn't have helped that particular case unless it was used on the politicians that turned a family feud and a medical decision into a political football.

  • Makes sense (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gweihir (88907) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @06:33AM (#44572137)

    When the complexity of the mechanism falls below a certain threshold, it makes sense that consciousness is not generated/emerged/attached/whatever anymore. Fascinating research, and may be a first step into finding out what consciousness actually is (current state of research: nobody has a clue).

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Vedas and vedic teachers state the brain is more of a radio receiever than a processing unit. It's an area of research where the scientist / researcher explores by meditation and self-exploration/realization, by transcending bodily functions and mind boundaries (confines of the soul if you will). The Vedas has provided uncanny insights on some profound concepts, such as age of the universe (very very long), beginning and end of the universe (still to be decided), flying machines and bombs. However, the Veda

      • by Sockatume (732728)

        I don't think the Vedas are all that vague about the age, beginning and end of the universe, unless you choose to ignore the parts that explicitly contradict what we do know from observation.

      • by sFurbo (1361249)

        Vedas and vedic teachers state the brain is more of a radio receiever than a processing unit.

        So both are easily proven wrong by even a cursory consideration of the effects of brain damage on consciousness. Good to know.

        This research is one step closer to confirming Vedic assumptions on consciousness:

        Wait, what?

        • Funny thing about 'spiritualists' and other con people. They see what they want to see. No fact cannot be twisted into some sort of confirmation.

          • by gweihir (88907)

            Indeed. The basic question here really is "physicalism or dualism"? I am decidedly a dualist, as there is far too many things not explained by physical reality and constructive mathematics (i.e. mathematics you can actually use taking practical limitations into account), consciousness and intelligence being the primary ones.

            But there is absolutely no rational basis for attaching much more than "there seems to be something individual in addition and it may be the basis of consciousness and intelligence". Yet

            • 2000 years ago dualists would have put disease, lightning and thunder under the 'not explained by physical reality and constructive math' category.

              The null hypothesis is not 'god did it'.

              • by narcc (412956)

                2000 years ago dualists would have put disease, lightning and thunder under the 'not explained by physical reality and constructive math' category

                2000 years ago, everyone else would have as well. What nonsense "point" are you failing to regurgitate?

                The null hypothesis is not 'god did it'.

                Where did this come from? It looks like a desperate attempt to drag god in to the conversation, or you're terribly confused about what "dualism" means and entails. Perhaps both?

                Oh, I should probably point out that the parent was agreeing with you. In your rush to fight the enemies of reason (which you are, ironically) you've managed to attack an ally.

                • He's reserving 'consciousness and intelligence' for 'spiritual' explanations. Same as the ancients did for most anything.

                  Maybe 'god did it' isn't good shorthand for general 'spiritual'. In any case invoking mumbojumbo for things you can't yet explain is a fallacy. Just like the 'I'm not saying it was aliens, but it was aliens' dude.

                  • by narcc (412956)

                    Ah, I think you've mixed up the users. The person to which you replied was a different user that, aside from his admitted dualism, seems to be in complete agreement with you.

                    • by gweihir (88907)

                      Maybe not. If HornWumpus is a fundamentalist physicalist, then his reaction would sort-of make sense, as that belief negates the existence of anything non-physical. That is pretty dumb though with the huge gaps we have in understanding reality while we do understand the physical part of reality pretty well. An honest stance would at least acknowledge that it is unclear whether physicalism or dualism is right. And an honest stance would acknowledge that neither physicalism nor dualism has any connection to "

                  • by gweihir (88907)

                    Non-physical and "spiritual" are decidedly different things. Non-physical is simply an exclusion, while "spiritual" is derived from religion and implies something "larger", "better", etc.

                    I also begin to suspect you are not answering to my posting, as what you say makes no sense in relation to it. Maybe you should also read up on dualism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dualism_(philosophy_of_mind) [wikipedia.org] as you seem to confuse it with spiritualism and other religious things.

              • by gweihir (88907)

                Huh? Your statement does not make any sense. Dualism has zero connection to religion.

        • by gweihir (88907)

          I don;t think it confirms anything like that. Whether the brain is an interface consciousness attaches to or whether consciousness is generated by the brain by some not yet understood physical process, decreasing complexity causing loss of consciousness is consistent with both models. So, sorry, not a proof for the Vedic assumption. Not that it is wrong, but it is just one possible model and the teachers are wrong to sell it as "true".

          Also, the brain is quire clearly doing a lot of information processing, t

          • by sFurbo (1361249)

            Whether the brain is an interface consciousness attaches to or whether consciousness is generated by the brain by some not yet understood physical process, decreasing complexity causing loss of consciousness is consistent with both mode

            Sure, but I am not simply talking about loss of consciousness. Changing the brain function can change the level and type if consciousness you have, and it is hard to argue that this is compatible with the brain being a simple receiver.

        • Well, to be fair, a sledgehammer to a radio can severely impact the sound coming out of it.
          Often for the better (talk, country, etc.)
          • by sFurbo (1361249)
            If consciousness was an on/off thing, then that would be relevant. However, it isn't. Consciousness is a continuum, and where you are on that continuum can be altered by affecting the brain. Consciousness also seems to be comprised of many subsystems, each of which can be altered or shut down with brain damage. For the talk radio, this would be equivalent to one of the debators to say less or not even being present, and the others responding to this, taking up more time and not discussing the points the now
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      It also implies an explanation for why loss of consciousness (e.g. sleep) is reversible: the modules are still active and performing their usual roles sufficiently to reinforce the associated neural connections, they're just not integrated.

      • by gweihir (88907)

        Indeed. Integrate again, and consciousness becomes actively attached to the brain again. What it does in the meantime, or whether it does exit in the meantime is up to speculation.

    • by narcc (412956)

      When the complexity of the mechanism falls below a certain threshold, it makes sense that consciousness is not generated/emerged/attached/whatever anymore.

      Sounds like magical thinking to me.

      But you know this already:

      current state of research: nobody has a clue

      Fascinating research, and may be a first step into finding out what consciousness actually is

      It's not a first step towards that at all. Not even a little bit.

  • by Two99Point80 (542678) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @06:40AM (#44572155) Homepage
    I wonder how us folks on the autism spectrum would measure,.. and how an individual's reading changes under different circumstances.
  • by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @06:45AM (#44572171)

    Consciousness is defined as, roughly, conscious personal experience. Nervous system-bearing organisms have it and tables don't.

    The thing is, when considered as a phenomena itself, it's kind of weird.

    It seems to inflict on some forms of matter (nervous systems) something non-corporeal and unnecessary. Newtons laws and QM don't need it to account for why anything at the particle level happens- we'd all be mouthing the same words, making the motions , living the same lives and generating the same collective world history without it according the our best developed theories of matter energy and causation.

    In theory, we could all be as mindless and devoid of consciousness as tables and from an outside observer's POV, nothing would change in our lives, our speech or all of human history.

    But it's not like that.

    We *know* we have conscious experience. Suppose you're a well adjusted modern scientist who doesn't busy himself with fanciful notions of non-corporeal "stuff" (a contradiction in terms , in fact). You';re a thorough-going materialist. What does the fact of conscious experience imply for you?

    It implies that conscious experience is a fact about material, perhaps suitably organized. Beyond the fact that *that is just weird* a basic question is- what characteristics of material organization gives rise to it ? Are there degrees of it. Minsky asserted (Society of Mind) that thermostats have a primitive form of it (they react to their environment in a feedbacky kind of way). This is not a far out thought and in fact seems to be even a necessity for materialists.

    The point is, here is a guy talking about consciousness as though he knew what it was, and now we're going to learn more about it. He's not unusual, this is staple fare.

    As if. The fact that conscious experience exists and we're all very familiar with it and infer its presence all the time in, say , dogs and cats, shouldn't be taken to mean that we understand it in any significant way, and when I say "it" I don't mean the biological underpinnings of it, I mean it as a phenomena , possibly disconnected from any kind of system specific underpinnings we're familiar with.

    It may just be a fact about the universe that exists independently of what we call personal experience, just the way energy or other abstract, yet real *things* exist independently of any particular form, at least so far as our best current theories go.

    Just saying. People throw this term "consciousness" around as if they know what it referred to. They don't. It's a a very basic, almost too basic, mystery. Mystery is where science begins, and you should not let yourself be separated from that feeling of the mysterious, the "out of our current conceptual grasp", by the self assured conceits of your time.

    We believe in the results of science because, ultimately, we trust some combination of our senses and our brain based experience we call "thinking". We believe this combination gives us knowledge of things which are not our brains, but have an independent reality. I believe this. But this knowledge comes to us through consciousness and not through some other avenue.

    One of the uncomfortable implications of this is people who claim to have a certain kind of universal knowledge or experience revealed to them by "spiritual or mystical" experience through which they come to know that the universe is somehow conscious can't just be poo pooed away. Considered in a certain way, that poo pooing would be one part of the brain, one function, one way of knowing, declaring its fiefdom of consciousness and understanding to be the ultimate judge of the reality of the outside world as processed by any other part.

    Just saying- you need to be skeptical and realize that not everything someone claims is that deep a claim.

      possible knowledge states by all parts of the brain

    • Consciousness is what one experiences when the parts of the brain's network are communicating with one another, a classic network effect [wikipedia.org]. Consciousness is one of the attributes of value a system gets by exercising its existence.

      • by Sockatume (732728)

        Yet different parts of the brain communicate with one another when we're unconscious; in this study, the connectedness metric only dropped to one half its normal value when a person was knocked out. So while that's a necessary condition it is not sufficient.

        • by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @07:46AM (#44572357)

          If you consider "systems" generally, as I think should be done, then the issues around consciousness get fuzzier, not more clear. If you want to build a theory of consciousness around the ideas of "complexity" and "systems" then this leads to pretty strange possibilities involving systems of systems being eligible for conscious .

          With going all Descartes one of the basic problems is- consciousness is defined by those who have it and it's presence is only definitely confirmed subjectively, by the bearer. It's LIKE something to be at some basic level. Is it LIKE something to be a computer? Does the computer have to be programmed in a very "specific" way, then it's LIKE something be be a computer? Why can't it be LIKE something to be an inappropriately or un-programmed computer, say, something chaotic and unpleasant ?

          I don't buy that, (why not Woofy Goofy? Can't say ) but my point is the follow on implications of this kind of (necessary) theorizing get bizarre fast. When things get like this, I take it to mean we lack the even the theoretical constructs and the discoveries of fact needed to form a proper framework. We lack the reifications. It's like Aristotle trying to account for observations that led top Heisenbergs Uncertainty Principle. He hasn't had those observations, and if he did a whole slew of prerequisite concepts each of which had their own experimental result as an impetus haven't been created and anyway none of this could have happened prior to technology advancing enough to grind glass into lens and melt ore into steel and so on and so forth.

          We're just not there. Where? I don't know, but I know we're not there.

          • by Bengie (1121981)
            There was a recent article on someone with "Walking Corpse Syndrome" who got a MRI, and their brain had the same signature as that of someone in a vegetative coma, yet the person was clearly conscience. They were baffled how this person was even able to function on the most primitive levels, yet alone communicate.
            • by Sockatume (732728)

              I'd love to know more about that article but you've misremembered the name, Walking Corpse Syndrome is where a living person is convinced they are deceased. So I'm getting nowhere with Google.

            • The various portions of the brain do not necessarily fall asleep at the same time. It leads to people doing complex things, like driving across town and killing someone, while "sleepwalking".

              • by sjames (1099)

                I once had the interesting experience of waking up except for my auditory cortex. I could hear but couldn't make any sense of it. It sounded like a bizarre mashup of sounds from a cartoon. A few seconds later, as I was pouring my coffee, I realized it was the neighbor's dog barking and it suddenly sounded perfectly normal.

                There are all sorts of states between asleep and awake. Some of them generate memories, others don't.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Agreed. I saw some results recently where scientists were mapping the development of brain networks in response to two stimuli. As the stimuli became harder to distinguish, both networks would still develop, however one would never make it to consciousness (as reported by the participants knowledge of stimuli). Thus the existence of brain networks alone is not enough to conclude consciousness.

    • by Sockatume (732728) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @07:03AM (#44572243)

      To summarise what you're saying: not only do we not know how the phenomenology of consciousness maps onto the physical substrate, we haven't even properly pinned down the phenomenology itself.

      It's like we're trying to figure out a five-dimensional-chess computer without actually knowing the rules of chess.

      • by cellocgw (617879)

        It's like we're trying to figure out a five-dimensional-chess computer without actually knowing the rules of chess.

        Naaah, that's easy: Queen to Queen's Level Five.

    • QM don't use consciousness, but they don't exclude it. When/if they will be able to predict with 100% accu future interaction of matter, they will have excluded it, not earlier.

      Example, what is AAAAAABAAAAAABAAAAAAB? A phenomenon easily represented by a function. It is also a map of my morning preferences (a=cafeteria, b=stay home). It is more than 90% accurate and doesn't use consciousness. Yet my choice could be conscious (if such concept exists) regardless of it.

    • by ibwolf (126465) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @07:27AM (#44572307)

      We *know* we have conscious experience.

      No. I know I have conscious experience. Anything beyond that is supposition. While it is entirely possible that I'm the only conscious entity in the universe, I find that unlikely. However, until we can explain consciousness in terms that enable me to test the consciousness of others, it will be a matter of faith that others are conscious (albeit the amount of faith required is very small).

      This research, however limited it may be, is an attempt to provide empirical underpinnings to the term consciousness. Hopefully it will get us a little closer to understanding what consciousness is but clearly this falls well short of explaining its nature in full.

      • by Sockatume (732728)

        It's also a supposition that the laws of motion apply to planetary bodies without direct experimentation upon them; however it's a reasonable and effective model, and consistent with the principle that the universe is consistent regardless of space, time, and reference frame.

        • But we've confirmed that the laws of motion apply to every planetary body we've bothered to test against them. It started with the moon*, where Newton used his newly-invented calculus to verify that the its motion would match the predictions of his theory.

          That anyone else besides myself is conscious is an assumption, albeit a reasonable one.

          *Yeah, not a "planetary body", but still applies.

          • You could reasonably suppose that all of the other solar system bodies behave according to as-yet-unknown laws that differ from our Earthly laws of motion yet conveniently provide exactly the same results. However to make that supposition would violate the rule of parsimony. Similarly it would violate the rule of parsimony to assume that other human beings happen to behave in exactly the same ways that we do, but lack the underlying internal drives.

            A parsimonious assumption consistent with the available dat

            • Sure, but we have much better understanding regarding how the laws of motion work than the mechanics of consciousness, which isn't much better than hand-waving in comparison. To have a detailed model work in several instances, and have the same results due to a different mechanism in others would be a much less believable coincidence than with consciousness.

              The laws of motion are also very good in that it is a very simple model that can be extended to describe seemingly complicated phenomenon. Consciousn
    • "We believe in the results of science because, ultimately, we trust some combination of our senses and our brain based experience we call "thinking". We believe this combination gives us knowledge of things which are not our brains, but have an independent reality. I believe this. But this knowledge comes to us through consciousness and not through some other avenue."

      We do not believe in science because of our science, we trust science DESPITE our sense, because we get repeatable results. The rest of your
      • I think one of the big questions about consciousness is in what sense it is "real", besides the subjective experience. (Or the ability to have a subjective experience). What are the essential qualities needed for such an emergent process to exist?

        There are some non-junk non-New Agey type theories about the universe in some sense being conscious (labeled Panpsychism), though I don't buy into them personally. The argument is that all objects have some level of consciousness, some more than others due to
        • I suspect that to comprehend consciousness we will have to add "state" to the traditional notions of matter and energy.

      • We do not believe in science because of our science, we trust science DESPITE our sense, because we get repeatable results.

        I thought the post was getting long , so I wasn't as clear as I could have been, You know about the results of your experiments via your senses, Ultimately, you trust them in this way- there is not a demon who makes you see the numeral 2 instead of the real 3 on your screens.

        Although there is a copy machine that fits this description.
        See yesterday's slashdot story.

        So at some point in th

      • by Xaedalus (1192463)

        "The truth is consciousness is probably not anything "real" it is just the emerging process from all part of our brain neuron communicating to each other. Destroy the neuron, you destroy or change personality in various way." As for your talk about universe consciousness ... Pffft. You can give drug to somebody, and they may dream of universal consciousness, gods, or pink elephant with carnivore teeth, but that aren't making any of thios real. Show me evidence for universal "cosnciousness" or such and I will start looking at it. Until then it is all bad trip on acid.

        What you said isn't "Truth", in an objective way. It's your personal subjective truth that you map out onto reality in the hopes that it is True. What I'd like to ask you is: why do you need to believe that conscious is nothing more than a side effect of an emergent neural network? What about materialistic reductionism is so important to you that you must advocate for it being the Truth?

    • by jfengel (409917)

      We don't have a rigorous definition of consciousness, yet, and may not for a long time.

      But legal and medical decisions have to be made in the absence of certainty, because they can't wait. They're caught in a bind: they'd really like to have some unambiguous measure, so that they're not trapped in a judgment call that would be argued indefinitely without getting any closer to certainty. Since they don't have a rigorous definition, they're forced to make do with extremely rough approximations that can only b

    • Consciousness is defined as, roughly, conscious personal experience. Nervous system-bearing organisms have it and tables don't...In theory, we could all be as mindless and devoid of consciousness as tables and from an outside observer's POV, nothing would change in our lives, our speech or all of human history.

      If you can separate consciousness from the nervous system, as you suggest in theory, then why can't a table have consciousness? Table consciousness would be very different from human consciousness, wi

    • by peter303 (12292)
      There are multiple definitions of consciousness. I think we are talking about "medical consciousness" here to be aware of your sensations. Other definitons include introspection, the internal "feeling" of being aware, awareness of other beings that think, hyper-aware states/feelings ... Some debate where these latter definitons are necessary for intelligence, especially for non-humans.
    • People throw this term "consciousness" around as if they know what it referred to

      That's because "consciousness", like every other word in English, has multiple meanings.
      When a philosopher says "consciousness is ubiquitous" and when a doctor says "the patient regained consciousness", those are two different things. The OP article is largely using the second meaning.

    • by TheLink (130905)

      But how do we know that tables and individual cells don't have consciousness either[1]? And why should there be consciousness as a necessary result and "emergent effect"? Couldn't you have the same results without actual consciousness?

      Consciousness as a phenomena is one of the reasons why I don't dismiss the possibility of the existence of God. There may be no hard proof of God's existence and Occam's Razor could say it's superfluous. But you could say the same thing of consciousness. As you said why couldn

    • by erice (13380)

      Consciousness is defined as, roughly, conscious personal experience.

      Bingo! Consciousness is defined in terms of itself.

      We *know* we have conscious experience.

      Actually. No. We think we have conscious experience. We believe this. We don't know it. We don't even really know what it means to say that we do.

      Consciousness is nothing more than a place holder for a reason to believe that we are special. It is that something that we are supposed to have that makes us different from everything else. As our machines gain more and more similar behavior, the definition of consciousness will be tightened more and more

  • by SecState (667211) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @07:03AM (#44572241)
    An article [theatlantic.com] in the Atlantic earlier this year discussed a technology apparently widely employed by hospitals to monitor whether patients are experiencing "interoperative awareness" during surgery: a Bispectral Index (BIS) monitor, which performs a electroencephalogram continuously during surgery and checks it against patterns thought to indicate conscious awareness. In early testing, it looked like it could detect most cases of interoperative awareness and was quickly adopted in hospitals from around 2004, but its reliability is now in question and the device, though still widely used, is controversial.

    From TFA, it seems this system is aimed at understanding brain damage and not at preventing interoperative awareness. Unfortunately the article doesn't give enough detail to know if the new tool is also based on EEG (I can't access the original study through the paywall). But, if it is, and if it gives a better sense of what patients are aware of, maybe it will have some use in the operating room as well.
  • Having to undergo surgery and having problems with the black-magic-art that anaesthesia is absolutely terrifies me and occupies more of my mind than it probably should. Anything that could potentially make that dark-art less ambiguous would be fantastic.

  • > "The metric relies on the idea that consciousness involves widespread communication between different areas of the brain"

    Dumb. Consciousness evolved in much simpler animals (which to be sure have most specialized areas) but massive brain is not required. Look for just another specialized nerve mode.

    Also just one lobe is enough. Therefore communication between two lobes is unneeded.

    Their idea seems more of leftover emergent behavior, of the woo woo type. Loss of consciousness happens without oxygen

    • by narcc (412956)

      Consciousness evolved in much simpler animals (which to be sure have most specialized areas) but massive brain is not required.

      Ugh. Why do you woo woo believers always jump to the first "conclusion" that makes you feel good? Why don't you base your beliefs on evidence instead? You'll find reality is more interesting that whatever magical nonsense you're going to promulgate next.

      You're the most dangerous type of magical thinker -- you actually believe that there's science behind your wildly speculative beliefs.

      • Explain how "Consciousness evolved in much simpler animals" is "woo-woo" or "magical thinking".
        Everything else evolved from simpler animals, why not consciousness?
        Believing otherwise is as "woo woo" as it gets.
        • by narcc (412956)

          Explain how "Consciousness evolved in much simpler animals" is "woo-woo" or "magical thinking".

          It's a belief held without evidence. You might as well posit fairies and elves. There's just as much evidence for their existence as there is for the parents claim.

          Everything else evolved from simpler animals, why not consciousness?

          I never made any such claim. I didn't say that he was right or wrong, only that there was no evidence to support his wild speculation. You woo woo's don't seem to care about evidence, you just believe whatever makes you feel good. It's sad, really, seeing you live in a fantasy world.

          Believing otherwise is as "woo woo" as it gets.

          I see. You think that your evidence-free beliefs are unquesti

  • Glasgowmeter (Score:4, Informative)

    by Dunbal (464142) * on Thursday August 15, 2013 @08:18AM (#44572443)

    This reminds me of one night when I was on call at the hospital. There was a horrendous car accident and the paramedics were talking to me via the radio. First you must understand that I'm in the third world and most of the paramedics here are just glorified bus drivers. Anyway the guy on the radio informs me that one of the patients is breathing but not conscious. So I asked him for his Glasgow score. In medicine we use something called the Glasgow score to evaluate the severity of neurological damage. It's based on 3 separate metrics that are added together. Each metric has a score more or less from 1 (minimum) to 5 (maximum). So an awake, alert person scores 15, while an almost dead person scores a 3. The scale looks at the patients eyes (whether open spontaneously, whether the patient opens his eyes when asked to, or in the presence of painful stimulus, or doesn't open them at all, for example), motor ability and verbal ability. It easy to assess someone within a few seconds and give them a "score". And there's a general rule - "8 - intubate!". Anyway, the paramedic goes off the radio for a few moments and I can hear him conferring with his buddy. After a while he gets back to me and says "Doc, I'm sorry but we don't have a Glasgowmeter here with us..." It was a facepalm moment...

    Anyway this device reminded me of that night and how those paramedics might have benefited from its use :)

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      If nobody's handed them an easy-to-use conceptual tool to measure consciousness, what makes you think they'd wind up being handed a physical tool to do the same?

    • by Medievalist (16032) on Thursday August 15, 2013 @11:29AM (#44574045)

      Anyway the guy on the radio informs me that one of the patients is breathing but not conscious. So I asked him for his Glasgow score. In medicine we use something called the Glasgow score to evaluate the severity of neurological damage. [...snip...] Anyway, the paramedic goes off the radio for a few moments and I can hear him conferring with his buddy. After a while he gets back to me and says "Doc, I'm sorry but we don't have a Glasgowmeter here with us..."

      I was expecting "Glasgow zero, Newcastle two and they've got the ball".

  • But it'll be very interesting to see what happens when they use it on the severely retarded and possibly find that they have at best the consciousness of a dog. The "ethics" of the medical profession are already starting to take a real downward spiral at the higher levels with people like Peter Singer (a respected "bioethicist" at Princeton) and now the Oxford Medical Journal saying [telegraph.co.uk] that literal infanticide is no different than abortion.

    This is what we pro-lifers mean when we talk about the "culture of deat

    • by EmagGeek (574360)

      It's all part of the movement towards State management of who lives and dies, based of course on political ideology and revenue.

      • It's all part of the movement towards State management of who lives and dies, based of course on political ideology and revenue.

        Such abuse is in fact possible, but right now it's your insurance company's actuary and your wallet that determine who lives and who dies.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      First, consciousness is not sapience. This result has nothing to do with self-awareness or intellect. I suspect that a conscious dog in the device would probably rate about the same as a conscious, healthy human being but that study literally hasn't been done.

      Secondly, if you honestly believe that an abstract philosophical stance on the ethics of infanticide is an actual point of policy or ethics in the general population, you really need to stop taking your ethics tuition from the Telegraph.

  • I think any vertebrate, while it's active, would pass this test. It's not a useful tool for determining human-level consciousness, just whether your brain is working and connected up right. My cats, for instance, probably have a fully functioning brains, are aware of and respond to their surroundings in a somewhat organized way, can care for their basic needs (hunt, find water, find places to sleep, fight, beg for food they don't really need). Their brains is no doubt as well connected as any human's, bu

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      No, it really is about more than the brain being healthy, but it's not about sapience or intelligence. For example, it can distinguish between consciousness and unconsciousness (e.g. sleep, general aneasthesia) in perfectly healthy connected subject. In "locked-in" patients it can do the same: the conscious state is independent of whatever other capabilities of the brain may be out of commission.

  • In some dreams try try to prove to myself I am conscious, then realize its a dream later.
  • "The line between consciousness and non-consciousness is thin, hard to define and, as the Terri Schiavo case taught us, often rife with political/religious quandaries"

    FTFY

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