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Mind-Body Philosophy: Part 20- Clues on Consciousness from Anesthesiology

By Frank Simons

The Meditation Center presents the 24 part Great Courses series Mind-Body Philosophy: Part 20- Clues on Consciousness from Anesthesiology, at 5:30pm, Thursday, May 24, 2018, at the Center, Callejon Blanco 4.

Video Presentation
Mind-Body Philosophy: Part 20- Clues on Consciousness from Anesthesiology
Thu, May 24, 5:30pm
Meditation Center
Callejon Blanco 4
Free, donations accepted
044 415 156 1950

The use of anesthetics such as ether, chloroform and nitrous oxide has much to teach us about consciousness. The initial hypothesis on different anesthetics was that they had some common mechanism, one thing they are doing in the brain. In 1901, a correlation between effectiveness as an anesthetic and solubility in olive oil, the lipid hypothesis, was discovered. By the 1980s, the lipid hypothesis had been debunked. Attention turned away from lipids to proteins and ion channels. Theories shifted from a unitary to diversity hypothesis: maybe all anesthetics don’t work the same way. Perhaps the effects aren’t even all similar. Anesthesia means “insensitivity to pain”. There are other chemicals, other terms: paralytics are employed as muscle relaxants; amnesiacs block recall; analgesics dampen or deaden pain without loss of consciousness. The aim of general anesthesia is eliminate conscious awareness, eliminating pain in the process.

It is common in anesthesiology to use a cocktail of chemicals to produce a spectrum of effects. Typically this includes a paralytic for muscle relaxation, an amnesiac to block memory of the event. The main intent is to block pain and awareness during surgery. Isn’t it possible the patient could feel a great deal of pain? This happens far too often. It is called intraoperative awareness. What we need is a consciousness monitor. With that we could tell if the patient is really unconscious when under anesthetic.

Four questions need to be answered: What is consciousness? We want to eliminate subjective awareness reported in the horror stories. We want the patient to have no awareness at all. How does consciousness work? If we could answer that, we would know the physical process we must turn off. How do anesthetics work? Can we measure that anesthetics are doing the work?

The last few years have seen a number of promising breakthroughs by a number of different research teams. Many theories involve approaches that take binding to be crucial to consciousness. The idea of subjective experience occurs not in some single part of the brain but in the operation of multiple parts of the brain functioning together. A number of studies across the world seem to support the combination of a binding hypothesis regarding consciousness and a unitary hypothesis of how anesthetics work.

The professor Patrick Grim, as Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has provided his students with invaluable insights into issues of philosophy, artificial intelligence, theoretical biology and other fields. Professor Grim was awarded the university’s Presidential and Chancellor’s awards for teaching excellence and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars.

There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video.

Presentations of the Center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.


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