For the first time in history, scientists report they have found the “on-off switch” for consciousness, located deep within the human brain. The researchers accidentally stumbled across the so-called switch while probing an epileptic patient’s brain. The study, entitled Electrical stimulation of a small brain area reversibly disrupts consciousness, was published in the journal Epilepsy and Behavior.
The research team was using deep brain electrodes to trace electrical signals in various parts of the patient’s brain, in a bid to determine the source of her seizures. One of these electrodes was positioned close to the claustrum – an area of the brain that scientists had never stimulated before.
The claustrum is a sheet-like part of the brain, believed to be mere millimeters deep. The structure was previously described by Francis Crick and Christof Koch as being akin to the conductor of an orchestra; the different regions of the cortex must “play” in synchrony with one another, or the quality of the conscious experience is disrupted.