Finding consciousness has been next to impossible and even decades of research still leave neuroscientists in the dark. There are many attempts to tackle the problem and some physicists suggested that consciousness or even soul can only be found in the quantum realm – being more or less an entangled equivalent of nature, a complex system that can only be understood by testing certain ideas to get specific results.
However, scientists love to map things these days and so far, mapping the brain has taught us a lot about compositions within our brains. A new method using 3d mapping techniques by incorporating 10,000 images could provide us fascinating answers. By digitally reconstructing the brain of mice, researchers were able to trace entire paths of up to three brain neurons, believed to be linked to consciousness.
Tracing neurons via conventional brain mapping methods has been very time-consuming, invasive and more or less unscalable. So far, tracing a single neuron has been a manual process made possible by injecting dye spreading throughout the branches of the brain. The all-new method changes all that, making it far easier to studying and finally understanding the human brain.
A team led by Christof Koch, president of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington, developed the technique. Koch explained his findings using his team’s 3-dimensional mapping method at a recent meeting of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative in Bethesda, Maryland.
He now refers to the claustrum, a small, thin sheet of cells found in the brain to be the seat of consciousness not only in mice but also in humans.
Specifically designed mice have been used to create brain models that react to a certain kind of drugs. These drugs triggered genes in their claustrum neurons initiating a unique reaction to produce a green fluorescent protein. This protein went on to spread throughout the entire neuron. Finally, a 3D reconstruction of glowing neurons has been made possible by overlapping up to 10,000 cross-sectional images of the mouse brain in a computer program.
After realizing the extent of the glowing neurons created, Koch now believes that the claustrum is totally involved in the creation of consciousness by coordinating inputs and outputs whilst being seemingly connected to the outer parts of the brain.
On the other hand, there are skeptics like Rafael Yuste, a renowned neurobiologist from Columbia University in New York City himself. He spoke to Nature about the admirable method Koch is using, but also mentioned that we just cannot prove definitely that the claustrum is involved in consciousness by saying: “It’s like trying to decipher language if we don’t understand what the alphabet is.”
According to Yuste, the work of Koch’s team is still of utmost importance, as the 3D mapping presents a very useful method for identifying the different cell types in the brain.
Nonetheless, Koch will continue to map the claustrum on his quest to unravel the mystery where consciousness resides in our brain. Of course, you can try to pinpoint the ever-elusive consciousness using scientific, rational, testable methods, but understanding the complexity of thoughts might need other kinds of reproducing it – this is where A.I. could change it all…