Dyslexia: In the eye of the Beholder?

Dyslexia Word Cloud

Bethany Firmin

Dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty (SpLD) affecting between 5-10% of people. The disorder is characterised by difficulties in phonological awareness (this refers to the ability to focus on and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words), verbal memory and verbal processing speed.

As well as difficulties with spelling and reading, there are a broad range of other symptoms – this can include concentration issues, trouble understanding certain jokes/expressions and difficulties with time management. Dyslexia is a broad spectrum, with some individuals experiencing some of the associated difficulties but not others, and with varying levels of severity. While some may have mild dyslexia, which can (personally, I was only diagnosed in my first year of university) be managed, others may always struggle significantly with reading and spelling. Intelligence is not affected.

For someone to be diagnosed with dyslexia, diagnostic tests are carried out, the content of which varies depending on the age of the individual. While these tests are very useful in giving information about an individual’s specific strengths and weaknesses, they can be very time-consuming.

Currently, there is no cure for dyslexia, but there are many strategies to help people, such as alternative exam arrangements and extra tutoring. With adequate support, many people with dyslexia go on to be very successful in life. The importance of early intervention is emphasised.

Dyslexia is widely believed to be a neurological problem, but a recent study suggests they may have found a possible cause of dyslexia – not in the brain, but the eyes!

Photoreceptors in the eye

In the eye, there are two types of photoreceptor (structures that respond to light) – the rod and cone cells. Rod cells, the more plentiful (around 120 million), respond to low levels of light but do not detect colour, which allows you to see in the dark. There is only one type of rod cell, and they are absent from the fovea (the region of the retina responsible for the highest visual acuity) but concentrated elsewhere. Cone cells (6-7 million) are only activated at higher concentrations of light, but detect colour. There are three types of cone cell – blue, red and green. There is a ‘blind spot’ in the fovea of about 0.1-0.15 millimetres, in which there are no blue cone cells.

Eye Dominance and Dyslexia

Similarly to the way in which most people have a dominant hand (apart from those who are ambidextrous), most people have a dominant eye. Both eyes record slightly different versions of the same image, so the brain decides which one is likely to be the most accurate. Signals from this dominant can override signals from the other. Lots more people are right-eyed than left.

This study investigated the presence or absence of eye dominance in 30 non-dyslexic students and 30 dyslexic students, using a method called the afterimage test. For the non-dyslexic participants, 19 were right-eye dominant and 11 were left-eye dominant – therefore, all had a dominant eye. On the other hand, 27/30 of the dyslexic participants had no dominant eye.

Furthermore, there were correlations between lack of eye dominant and apparent physical differences in eye. In the dominant eye, the shape of the blind spot is circular, while the shape in the non-dominant eye is elliptical. In the dyslexic participants with no eye dominance, however, the shape was circular in both eyes. For one of these participants, five family members who also had dyslexia were studied – there was no asymmetry in the arrangement of cone cells, as well as no eye dominance. This suggests a possible genetic cause of dyslexia, and could lead to new diagnostic strategies for dyslexia

Lack of asymmetry would mean the brain has to process two slightly different ‘mirror images’, which researchers believe would confuse the brain. Perhaps this could explain why dyslexic people commonly make ‘mirror image errors’ – for example, mistaking ‘b’ and ‘d’, or ‘3’ and ‘E’ – and often get confused between left and right.

So, what else does this study mean for dyslexic people? Firstly, lack of afterimage dominance could lead to a potential new, quicker way to diagnose the condition. In addition, researchers were able to use an LED lamp to “cancel” one of the images in the brains of the dyslexic participants, which reduced reading difficulty. Some participants referred to this as the “magic lamp”.

Considerations & Limitations

While this study seems very promising, it is important to remember that only 30 dyslexic participants were studied – this sample size is too small to draw any absolute conclusions. Also, all participants were students, so these would not have been representative of the whole dyslexic population.

A further problem is that the study cannot establish cause-effect relationships. It cannot be said whether the visual differences are the trigger of dyslexia, or simply a consequence.

As well as that, the findings from the study may explain some people’s dyslexia symptoms, but may not necessarily explain the symptoms of other people. As mentioned before, dyslexia has many symptoms and manifestations, which this study does not necessarily explain. For me, I don’t experience ‘mirror image’ distortions when reading, but the words sometimes start to go wobbly after I’ve been reading for a while. There are a range of other distortions experienced by other dyslexic people too, such size distortions of letters/words or gaps between words appearing narrower/wider.

In conclusion, while the study seems promising, significantly more work is needed before any proper conclusions about the cause of dyslexia can be drawn.

Why do we Procrastinate?

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Emily Farrell

Everyone procrastinates. No one wants to write that essay, or clean the bathroom. If it’s not food, sex or sleep, your body is just not interested. Sure, in the long run you might need to write that essay, to get that degree, to get that job, to earn money to buy food to survive. But your body doesn’t understand, or care, about that. Your body is a thing made in simpler times. It is built for when survival entailed going off to pick some plants to eat, some reproducing and maybe a bit of sleep afterwards. But modern, western lifestyles are a horrible mismatch for this way of living. Imagine giving a caveman a long, boring, task to do such as moving numbers from one column to another (maybe with sticks, it could take a while to explain the concept of computers). Why should he do it? He gets no food from it. He gets no joy from it. Doing this task does not make him any more attractive to cavewomen who might then want to have his babies. It takes a reasonable amount of energy that is better spent in other labours. So why should he do it? To him, the answer is he shouldn’t. And this is the thought process your brain goes through when faced with a task. While the conscious parts of your brain know the real reason for the task, your ancient parts of the brain, which we share with our ancestors and other animals, do not.

Think about it. How do you procrastinate? Making a snack? (means you won’t starve to death) Taking a nap? (means you won’t be too tired to see the tiger of death headed your way) Talking to friends? (maintaining social bonds which one day might lead to you making tiny replicas of yourself vis someone else’s genitals) Watching cat videos? (evolution can’t explain the internet, but taking joy from something which takes away no resources you may have gained from the other tasks means your body agrees to it).

Cleaning your own room is therapeutic and has actually been shown to improve your mood while doing it and afterwards when you’re in your nice clean room. But when it comes to the gross shared bathroom every uni student has encountered, you put it off for longer. You procrastinate away from it. This is because you gain no real benefit from it. It’s not dirty enough to give you diseases (yet), and you don’t spend enough time in it for it to benefit your mental health. If you can’t see an immediate advantage, you won’t do it.

Procrastination is all about cost and benefit and finding the balance between the two. If the immediate payout does not equal or outweigh the energy expenditure required to perform the task, then the inclination to do it will disappear.

Think about this the next time you put something off and do something else instead. Would what you are putting off benefit a caveman? Would he benefit by doing what you are doing now? But don’t listen to your inner caveman. Listen to your inner modern human who wants that essay done, because they know that you really need to do it. Don’t let them in only at the last second to write it. Go and do something productive! Go!

Regaining signs of consciousness after 15 years in a vegetative state!

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Emma Hazelwood.

A man in France has regained some signs of consciousness after being in a vegetative state for fifteen years.

A vegetative state is defined as the absence of responsiveness and awareness due to brain damage, although some motor reflexes are maintained as normal. The issue of consciousness has baffled humans for centuries – there is no one test to determine whether someone is conscious. Instead, there is a scale known as the Coma Recovery Scale, which looks at various aspects of consciousness (including communication and auditory and visual functions).

The 35-year-old went into a coma after being involved in a car accident in 2001, and had shown no signs of improvement since. That is, until scientists tried a new treatment, involving using electricity to stimulate a nerve in the man’s body, known as the vagus nerve. This nerve runs from the brain to several areas of the body, including areas involved in emotion, alertness and memories. It was thought that after this treatment the patient may be able to regain some consciousness, without the risk of side effects from medication.

Improvements in the subject’s condition could be seen within a month of treatment. At first, this just meant being able to open his eyes more often. His brain showed activity in areas which had previously been quiet, and eventually he was able to follow an object around the room with his eyes, and even respond to requests to turn his head from one side to the other. He reacted with surprise when the examiner’s head suddenly approached his face. Amazingly, he shed tears and could smile with the left side of his face when he was played his favourite music.

According to medical professionals, this is known as a “minimally conscious state” – the man has not fully regained consciousness to the extent he had before the accident, but he is able to show some self and environmental awareness.

Although the test needs to be repeated in other patients, the results have neurologists very excited for future potential treatments involving this technique.

However, this experiment further demonstrates how little we know about consciousness, and brings into question the ethics surrounding treatment of people in vegetative states. Recently, the Court of Protection in England and Wales ruled that if doctors agree it is in the patient’s best interests, families of people in vegetative states no longer need the court’s permission to let their loved one die.

We do not have a perfect way of deciding whether someone is conscious or not. A 2010 study by the New England Journal of Medicine found that 40% of patients who had been assumed to be completely vegetative were actually able to communicate, even if it was just through yes or no questions.

If someone can “wake up” after fifteen years of no environmental awareness, this may complicate the already complex issue of whether it is right to decide to stop artificially feeding people in vegetative states. This could add to the guilt and emotional distress of families trying to decide whether or not to keep their loved one alive through machines, not knowing whether or not they are in pain or will ever wake up; or letting them die, never knowing whether they would have recovered.

The process may also be emotionally distressing for the patient. In this example, doctors have not yet asked the man whether he is in pain. Furthermore, doctors agree that he has such severe brain damage that it is unlikely he will ever be able to walk or talk again – even if he is eventually able to fully regain consciousness. This brings into light concerns around whether it is right to bring back someone who has been unconscious for so long (so many things have changed since he went into a coma in 2001), and to a lower quality of life than before, especially when we do not fully understand the process.

This treatment has been a breakthrough discovery for neurologists, and opens up a new world of possible treatments. However, it is essential that as we discover more about consciousness and how it is regained, we continue to consider the ethical consequences of our actions.

 

Savant Syndrome

Ellie Marshall

Can you think of any talents you possess? Perhaps you’re a great runner or are skilled at
playing an instrument? Now imagine that you didn’t have to work for those talents at all, and that they are beyond all normal human capabilities. This is what it is like to have Savant syndrome.

Savant syndrome is a rare phenomenon where a person possesses unexplained and
remarkable talents despite mental or physical disabilities. Almost all congenital savants have some form of brain damage, usually to the left hemisphere and around 50% of savants have autism. The remaining 50% either have some form of damage to or disease of the central nervous system. Due to this, some people can acquire savant like abilities later in life after a head injury, dementia, concussion, epilepsy or other brain disturbances.

Exceptionally deep but narrow memory is common to all savants, which allows them to excel at certain activities. For example, one boy could recite the route and time table of every bus in the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Such talents can be placed into 5 categories: music, usually performance and mostly piano, with perfect pitch but sometimes composing instead or playing multiple instruments (up to 22 in some cases); art, usually painting drawing or sculpting; lightning calculation, including the ability to calculate prime numbers; calendar calculation; and visual-spatial ability, including the capacity to precisely measure distances without the use of instruments, the ability to construct complex models with painstaking accuracy and map making. Skills are usually singular, although multiple skills can be possessed in some cases. The most common savants are ‘human calendars’ and have the ability to rapidly calculate the day of any given date or recall personal memories from that particular date.

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Image credit: Derek Amato

One of the most famous savants is the late Kim Peek, who inspired the character ‘Raymond Babbitt’ in the 1988 film ‘Rain man’. Kim was born with a developmental disability but memorised over 6000 books and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of history, sports, geography, music, literature and nine other areas of expertise. He could name all the US area codes and major city zip codes. He also memorised maps found in the front of telephone books and could tell you exactly how to get from one city to another and then how to travel around that city street by street. One of his most remarkable qualities was his ability to read books at lightning speed by simultaneously scanning one page with the left eye and the other with the right eye. MRI scans showed he lacked a corpus callosum (part of the brain that transfers information between hemispheres) with other central nervous system damage. Despite his brilliant mind, Kim had an IQ of 87, markedly lower than average and struggled to follow certain directions.

Contrastingly, Derek Amato was born without any brain dysfunction. However, aged 39 he suffered a head injury in a pool that caused him to suffer from headaches, memory loss and 35% hearing loss in one ear. Several weeks later something dramatic happened. Whilst round at a friend’s house, he spotted a cheap electric keyboard and without thinking he sat at it. He had never played the piano, nor had any previous inclination to, but his fingers found the keys by instinct and to his amazement rippled across them. He started with his right hand, playing arpeggios and climbing in lyrical chains of triads. His left hand followed, laying down bass and picking out harmonies. Amato sped up, slowed down, varied the volume and was soon playing chords as if he had been playing for years. When he finally stopped and looked up, his friend was in tears. Amato found he an overwhelming compulsion to play and would shut himself in for as long as two to three days exploring his new skill.

So, what is the mechanism behind this? There are many theories as to why this occurs, but the most widely accepted theory is as follows: When the left hemisphere and higher-level memory circuits of the brain become damaged, parts of the undamaged brain are recruited to compensate. Lower level memory capacities are also recruited. This is known as cross-modal neuroplasticity. It has been established that some savants operate by accessing low level, less processed information that exists in all human brains but is not usually available to conscious awareness. For example, instead of seeing a whole tree, they would see every individual leaf and branch. However, some argue that this ‘recruitment’ of new areas of the brain to replace damaged areas and develop new skills is a ‘release’ of pre-existing areas, previously masked by more dominant areas of the brain.

Savantism occurs in males more often than females in a ratio of 6:1, the reason being for
this that males are more likely to develop disorders involving damage to the left hemisphere such as autism, dyslexia and delayed speech. The left hemisphere develops slower than the right, meaning it has greater susceptibility to pre-natal influences. Testosterone has a neurotoxic effect and can slow the growth of the left hemisphere, allowing the right hemisphere to become bigger and more dominant in compensation. The right hemisphere of the brain is responsible for art awareness, creativity, imagination, intuition, insight, music awareness and holistic thought.

We cannot fully model brain function until we can account for and incorporate savant
syndrome. Understanding this condition has wide implications regarding buried potential in some, if not all of us. If such potential could lie dormant in Amato, who knows what spectacular abilities lie dormant in us?

Brain Altering Parasites

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Jonathan Cooke

Fans of The Last of Us might be familiar with brain-altering parasites. These little critters and fungi are slowly creeping into the popular imagination thanks in part to media using them as the instigator of the ever-popular zombie apocalypse genre. The ‘bad guy’ of choice in The Last of Us is the parasite Cordyceps; a fungus that is represented by multiple species which ‘zombify’ their hosts, turning them into vessels for their reproduction.

Fortunately for you, Cordyceps; or more precisely Ophiocordyceps only prey on tiny insects found on the forest floor. In fact, they are quite an effective pest control, helping to keep insect populations in check.

Generally, whether or not the parasite kills their host, it will manipulate the host into a situation that is more advantageous for the parasite. For instance, if the current host is merely an intermediary for the parasite can reach their final host they will manipulate the current host’s behaviour to make it more likely they will come into contact with the final host.

Such parasites include the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii; which infect rodents, but reproduce in cats, alter the behaviour of their rodent hosts. Several behavioural experiments have found that rats infected by the parasite are much more likely to take risks than their non-infected counter-parts. This leaves them more susceptible to eaten by their feline predators, thereby continuing the parasites lifecycle.

These behavioural changes are usually brought about by manipulating the hosts brain chemistry, either increasing or decreasing the brains response to signals it is receiving. In the case of the rodents, T.gondii ‘makes’ encourages risk-taking behaviour by ignoring environmental stimuli that work to make them dive for cover, such as the scent of cats. In several experiments that exposed rats to the smell of various different organisms, rats infected with T.gondii tended to frequent areas that smelled of cats and were not scared of cats when they were in the area. This is part of the parasite’s ‘extended phenotype’; where the behaviour of the host changes to maximise the survival chances of the parasites genes.

Again and again these manipulations have been observed in the animal kingdom (although for the most part the actual mechanisms are not fully understood, I should know, I wrote my dissertation on it) but what if they do affect humans?

Are humans manipulated in the same way that others are, to benefit those organisms that are so much smaller than us?

Humans are parasitized by many different organisms, tapeworms being a well-known example. However, most parasites we know steal nutrients from the food we eat, or feed off us directly, like ticks. In both cases, they don’t kill us, and don’t need to do something as energy consuming as manipulating their host’s behaviour.

Manipulating your host’s behaviour typically indicates that you want your host to move somewhere or do something that would be out of the ordinary for them; but is advantageous for you as the parasite, e.g. in the case with Cordyceps, which want their spores to be better distributed, or you want your host to be eaten, such as with T.gondii.

Neither of those strategies would be viable in humans. We don’t tend to get eaten by other organisms until we die naturally and unless the parasite only breeds around beach resorts in Tenerife, there’s not much point in changing our behaviour.

So, what if it’s accidental? What if we get infected by something were not supposed to? How might a parasite, not realising its reached a reproductive dead-end, affect us? Well ever since humanity has been looking after our feline friends we’ve run the risk of accidental infection by T.gondii, although no one is quite clear as what this infection might do to us. Infection rates vary widely across the country and for the vast majority of the population infection is completely asymptomatic, though infection can also trigger toxoplasmosis which can have lethal consequences.

Some observational evidence from studies, seem to suggest that infection has a demonstrable effect on the behaviour of those who have picked up the parasite, although the consequences do differ between males and females. Women seemingly become more intelligent, affectionate, and more likely to follow rules, whilst men tend to mellow out, becoming more loyal and mild-tempered when compared against other males.

The only trait that those who are infected share across both genders is a higher level of neuroticism, being more likely to blame themselves for problems in their lives and to have a high sense of insecurity.

However, these correlations are just that – correlations. No work has been done to prove that T.gondii is what is causing these behavioural changes in people – if they are changes at all.

Perhaps the reverse is happening; those of us with these traits are more prone to getting infected. Very little work – for obvious ethical reasons – has been done to see T.gondii interacts with the human body. However, perhaps we can take small pleasure in the idea that it is going to be convincing us to get eaten by lions anytime soon.

Behaviour altering parasites is a new, emerging field in biology; its effects are rarely documented and even more rarely understood in how they work. For many years, however, there has been a fundamental view that humans are not affected by such parasites and that we are apart from the animal kingdom in this regard.

Perhaps it’s time we address this view?

The ‘Tetris Effect’

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Jess Jarvis

Tetris – a game we’ve all played at some point throughout our childhood. A frustratingly addictive, yet somewhat simplistic game, involving aligning falling blocks in horizontal lines, to gain points.

But whom would’ve thought that a game which stamped out hours of our summer holiday boredom, could hold such valuable, therapeutic properties?

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The BBC reported recently that Tetris may actually be beneficial to our physical and mental health. Helping to ease patient suffering in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), curb cravings for addictive substances and even treat lazy eyes!

Scientists have suggested that it is the captivating and immersive ease of playing Tetris which ‘makes it potentially powerful as a therapeutic tool’.

Prof. Emily Holmes, a previous visiting professor in Clinical Psychology at the University of Oxford, has spent many years of her career studying the potential use and effectiveness of Tetris in therapy and medicine. She suggests that it is the visual aspect of Tetris that makes it so absorbing. Unlike other games, the diversity in colour, shape and movement taps into the visual memory. The ‘Tetris Effect’ can be so intense, that people often report seeing the ‘falling blocks in their thoughts and dreams’ after playing.

Easing Suffering in PTSD

Prof. Holmes and her colleagues published a study in 2017, which showed how intrusive memories and ‘flashbacks’ – characteristic of PTSD – could be significantly reduced by playing Tetris. This study was one of the first to look at the use of Tetris as a therapeutic intervention. It suggested that the high ‘visuospatial demands’ of Tetris occupied the sensory elements of memory, preventing the consolidation of traumatic memories in the mind.

6 hours following a motor vehicle trauma, participants were delivered either a control intervention (writing a log for 20 minutes) or a Tetris intervention (20 minutes of game play). A week later, compared to the control group, those whom had played Tetris were significantly less affected by intrusive memories. Furthermore, their incidence of intrusions was significantly lower too!

From analysing previous research, Tetris seems to be the only game which has a positive effect on preventing intrusive memories following trauma. Not only is the intervention extremely effective, it is also very simple and helpful for people to use. It is low in intensity and the game itself, creates minimal distress. It reduces the symptoms of PTSD, whilst still allowing the ability to make sense of the event.

Further studies with more participants could show whether Tetris might have a real impact on the quality of life for sufferers following trauma. This research is only in the early stages though, and has a long way to go before it can be implemented into clinical situations.

Curbing Addiction and Cravings

Scientists from Plymouth University and Queensland University of Technology, have said playing Tetris can also help control cravings for addictive substances.

31 students took part in this experience sampling study. They were sent text messages throughout the day which asked them to rate their current level of cravings for drugs (e.g. cigarettes), food and drink (e.g. coffee, alcohol), and activities such as exercise and sex.

Half of the students were given a device to play short games of Tetris throughout the day. This mini intervention showed Tetris to have an effect, whereby cravings reduced more in those who played the game.

Prof. Jackie Andrade believes Tetris has an effect on curbing addictive cravings, because cravings involve imagining an intense experience of indulging in the use of a particular substance. Therefore, the demanding nature of Tetris on the sensory mental processes in the brain, makes it extremely difficult to imagine cravings vividly and make sense of them, whilst playing Tetris at the same time.

Treating a Lazy eye (Amblyopia)

Dr. Robert Hess, from McGill University in Canada (2013), completed a small study to see whether Tetris could help treat a condition known as lazy eye or amblyopia.

Previous treatments have only focused on retraining the ‘lazy eye’ alone. In the past doctors had recommended “covering the “good” eye with a patch to make the “lazy” one work harder.”

However, it became apparent to the researchers that the only way to help solve amblyopia was to solve the disruption to binocular vision and encourage the two eyes to work together.

Dr. Robert Hess, used headset-video goggles to display an adapted version of Tetris. Through these goggles Tetris was displayed dichoptically, ‘where one eye was allowed to see only the falling objects, and the other eye was allowed to see only the ground plane objects.’ This adaptation required the eyes to work simultaneously.

Results showed half of the participants played regular Tetris with the stronger eye patched up, while the other half of the participants played the adapted game with both eyes open. At the end of the study both groups improved, but those who used both eyes and played the game through the headset, showed a dramatic improvement.

Many people play Tetris just to pass the time. However, it seems as though Tetris may have therapeutic benefits; showing an amazing and captivating effect on the mental and physical processes in the body and enabling interventions for many kinds of disorders and conditions.

 

Questions of Consciousness

Harpreet Thandi

Consciousness is very deep and a very important aspect of life. It is very mystical and opens us a whole new area in understanding the complexity of the human mind. This fascinating new area in neuroscience is answering questions as it terms out to be connected to biology and not just a vague concept. These are as follows:

What are the critical brain regions for consciousness?

There are approximately 90 billion neurons that make up the human brain, with thousands more connections between them. This is not the complete picture as a high number of neurons does not correspond to consciousness.

Current thinking is that consciousness is primarily linked to the specific network of regions in the cortex (all the folded parts) and secondly the thalamus (a walnut-shaped structure deep inside). This can determine types of consciousness; being awake, dreamless sleep or the involvement in each experience.

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This also leads to new areas of research such as the brain’s densely connected frontal lobes, and questions about how valuable the information that travels between different regions of the brain really is.

What are the mechanisms of general anaesthesia?

There are many methods to induce general anaesthesia, including substances such as propofol – which can cause severe reactions in some people. The current evidence is that anaesthesia alters how different parts of the brain interact with each other (as mentioned in question 1). This creates an effect where the brains parts get interfered with – starting what is described as a “cognitive unbinding” process.

The goal is to understand how general anaesthesia is compared to unconsciousness-like dreamless sleep in the brain.

What is self?

This is a very fundamental concept – what it means to be us. The ‘I’ behind the eye. Our thoughts, words, actions, perspective, psychology, past, present, and future to name a few subjective aspects. These are all changed by the processes inside the brain. Which is a very scary idea that chemicals change and can modify our inner workings.

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An out of body spiritual experience can be replicated by various experimental factors. The aim is to understand this ‘I’ idea to be able to combat psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia. Which is a very exciting prospect for the future breaking down the meaning of self.

What determines experiences of volition and ‘will’?

Another interesting concept that verges into philosophy is this idea of “free will” or freedoms and their existence. This idea has been the topic of discussion since the 1980s. After looking for neural signatures of volition (the intention of action) and agency (experience of causing action).

The new school of thought is that volition does not exist and very clear actions involve the entire brain. This acts as a complete complex map of networks that conducts open decisions between different parts of the brain-an undivided system.

What is the function of consciousness? What are experiences for?

A large variety of cognitive functions, environmental perception, decision making and even voluntary actions can be carried out without consciousness.

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The key distinction is that consciousness can integrate information. This means from our life experiences a large amount of possibilities are removed. This changes the levels of functions that can be carried out with consciousness.

How rich is consciousness?

A big issue is that consciousness is almost subjective. Especially because, as previously mentioned, once you experience something then there is also a “self” bias. The current research reflects this limitation. The evidence leads to separating the effects on the brain of consciousness and our self-involvement. Emphasis is made to explore the interplay between these factors to deepen our understanding.

Are other animals conscious?

This is a very deep question that is very profound. Mammals have a lot of similar brain functions to a human, they carry out functions, and this helps us ask this very logical question.

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An animal’s consciousness is very different to a human as they don’t have the same concept of self as humans. However, there are distinctions in this level such as in birds and cephalopods, like an octopus, which are very smart with a high capacity of learning.  

Are vegetative patients conscious?

In the US alone 15,000 patients are in a ‘vegetative state’, from a huge brain injury. In this state the patient’s behaviour shows that these patients are awake but not aware.  From brain imaging, at least some of these patients are conscious, and even engaged in communication with their families and doctors. The next step is to diagnose and treat these patients.

These are just a few questions in current research in the neuroscience of consciousness. This field will start to shed some new light on areas within the vast areas of still unknown fundamental questions.

 

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