Sunday, January 01, 2012

How Anesthesia Changes Mind.

Studying human brain under anesthesia presents not only ethical, scientific, and philosophical problems, but also involves some down-to-earth technological challenges. For example, it's difficult to collect and correlate people's different types of vital signs, both from brain imaging and more traditional collection techniques. Here's how engineers and scientists managed to solve the problem.
January 1, 2012. MTR -- Brain imaging in human subjects undergoing anesthesia is tricky because it requires anesthetizing people within a scanner and outside a normal operating room. Brown and his colleagues found a way to solve the technical and safety problems: they recruited volunteers who had already received tracheostomies, or surgical holes in the throat. That meant a tube could readily be used to restore their breathing in an emergency. In 2009, the researchers demonstrated that they could safely record both EEG and fMRI data on people under anesthesia; now they are working to correlate the imaging and EEG data with the observable changes seen as patients enter an anesthetized state.
Rather than "modifying" people to make their key vital signs exposed, they found those who's already been "modified" for other purposes. (This approach is generally outlined in Principles 9 through 11 in classical TRIZ problem-solving recommendations. These are instances of Separation in Time from the dilemma resolution techniques.)
Anesthesia studies have already cast doubt on one popular theory, which links consciousness to a particular type of brain wave with a frequency around 40 hertz. Mashour points out that research in anesthesia shows these waves can exist even when patients are unconscious. But the patterns that anesthesiologists see do support another theory: that consciousness emerges from the integration of information across large networks in the brain. 
 I wonder how much of our "everything is a network" thinking is determined by everyday exposure to the Internet. Brain is much more than a network, but we don't have the right words to describe it yet.

tags: mind, brain, biology, philosophy, problem, solution, triz

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