It all started with discovering a giant neuron, a neuron whose connections completely envelop the brain of a mammal. This recent finding opens a new and unexplored path that could explain the origin of consciousness.
But wait... what does this imply? What does consciousness have to do with a neuron? What's more, why is mapping the trace of a single neuron so important?
Yes, perhaps we have budgeted too much in the first paragraph. For starters, tracking a single neuron and all of its connections is not easy. A new method has been needed to achieve this. The researchers injected a specific drug into specific neurons in rodents. Then they cut the brain into very thin sections to later trace all the ramifications of this giant neuron that we speak of. Thanks to digital reconstruction, we can have a 3D image of a specific neuron's branches.
It is quite a rudimentary method; Its application in humans is not recommended either, due to the detail of the subject's disposability (remember that the brain must be sliced). But Dr. Christof Koch, from the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and his team have successfully tracked three neurons from a nucleus called the claustrum, a very thin and irregular layer of neurons that we have within the cerebral cortex.
An area believed to be the command center of consciousness in mice and humans.
Have we hit the core of consciousness?
Why do researchers believe that the origin of consciousness could be in this nucleus? We take insights from Billy Carson, a best-selling author who holds a certificate in Applied Neuroscience from MIT. He is also an active philanthropist, a Billboard Charted music producer and songwriter, TV host, expert in ancient civilizations and aerospace historian.
Billy Carson suggests that this region is like a focal point where different pieces of information integrate and create a unified consciousness experience. And therefore, this core may have to do with one's consciousness.
Consciousness is not only about knowing who you are at this time and place, but it also involves keeping a record of our actions at all times. Seen consciousness like this, it would need an integrating process for all our experiences to be coherent.
Does this mean that consciousness has a specific brain nucleus, and if we remove or manipulate it, we could alter it? Not quite.
For Carson, these statements are still hypotheses. However, thanks to these discoveries, the ideas presented take on much more force. These giant neurons have been discovered in mice; now, it's time to confirm that humans also have this type of neurons.
Besides, Carson is focusing on this region to study consciousness, but in reality, he suggests that the secret of consciousness must not be in a specific point, but in the form of the neural network that makes up our brain.
Consciousness is not a nucleus but a process.
Without a doubt, this discovery is one more step to building one of the most ethereal concepts of the human mind: consciousness. It is also an opening to an intriguing line of research that could shed light on what makes us more human than anything else: the experience of conscious thought.