Can We Regenerate the Brains of the Dead (and NOT have a zombie apocalypse)?

All you doomsday preppers might want to speed up production on your underground bunkers because there is a new trial to see if it is possible to regenerate the brains of the dead. Jokes aside, this important trial has finally won approval from healthcare watch dog groups and is on its way. Dr. Himanshu Bansal, in collaboration with Revita Life sciences and Bioquark Inc, has been granted permission to recruit 20 patients who have been declared clinically dead due to a traumatic brain injury. Link

It is called the ReAnima Project and recruitment has already begun. Scientists will use several therapies, like injecting the brain with stem cells, that have shown to bring patients out of comas. The trial participants, currently, are only alive via life support. Brain imaging equipment will monitor them for several months using brain imaging equipment to look for any sign of regeneration in the upper spinal cord, which controls independent breathing and heartbeat.

The team hypothesizes that the brain stem cells may be able to erase their damaged history and re-start life giving processes again. Dr. Ira Poastor, ceo OF Bioquark Inc.,has said "We hope to see resuls within the first two o three months."

Of course, there are skeptics. Among them is Dr. Dean Burnett, a neuroscientist from the University of Cardiff's Centre for Medical Education, has said: "Saving individual parts might be helpful but it's a long way from resurrecting a whole working brain, in a functional, undamaged state.”

This image is from Flickr User Neil Conway and is licensed under Creative Commons.

Have You Ever Experienced Reality?

Donald D. Hoffman, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California Irvine, says that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our individual senses. link

You have doubted your senses before, right? For example, the last time you thought you saw something out of the corner of your eye or that cool visual effect of the ballerina spinning counter-clockwise and clockwise. But, overall, we trust our senses.

Dr. Hoffman claims that we have evolution itself to thank for this magnificent, all encompassing illusion of reality. By driving truth to extinction, life becomes all the more easier to live.

He continues his explanation by saying that the human races has been shaped to have perceptions that keep us alive to we must take them seriously. If one sees something that one thinks of as a snake, one doesn't pick it up. These symbols of bad/good, healthy/unhealthy, safe/unsafe have evolved along with us to keep us alive. But just because we take them seriously doesn't mean they should be taken seriously.

But...if snakes aren't snakes and just a symbol for danger...well, then what are snakes?

Professor Hoffman has a succinct answer for this:

"Snakes, like the particles of physics, have no objective, observer-independent features. The snake I see is a description created by my sensory system to inform me of the fitness consequences of my actions. Evolution shapes acceptable solutions, not optimal ones. A snake is an acceptable solution to the problem of telling me how to act in a situation. My snakes and trains are my mental representations; your snakes and trains are your mental representations."

His theory is called "conscious realism". Objective reality is just made up of separate conscious agents, just points of view. His theory of humanity, of life, is a machine theory that is computationally universal. But...Dr. Hoffman doesn't think we're machines. He explains that, as a conscious realist, conscious experiences are the most basic ingredients of the world. Experiences, like a headache or the smell of fresh cut grass, is the ultimate nature of reality.

This image comes from Flickr User Tianna Spicer and is licensed under Creative Commons.

Lucid Dreamers Could Unravel the Mystery of Consciousness

Roughly, we spend 6 entire years of our lives dreaming. Although we can be "aware" of what happens in our dreams, we're clearly not conscious in the same way as when we are awake. link

But some people, in particular lucid dreamers, have the ability to experience awareness while they dream by "re-awakening" aspects of their waking life consciousness. Like Leo in Inception, they can even control and act with intentionality in their dream world.

According to a study done by Discover Magazine, about 50% of people will experience at least one lucid dream during their lives. There is also some evidence that lucid dreaming can be induced and does not need to be regulated to an accidental anomaly.

Incredible studies have examined the difference between lucid and non-lucid dream, and what goes on in the brain during this time, by hooking people up to a brain scanner over night and comparing brain activity. They have developed a communication between lucid dreamer participants and the researchers themselves. Before going to sleep, the participant and the research agree on a specific eye movement in order to signal that they are currently lucid dreaming.

This way of testing has shown that the difference between non-lucid and lucid dreaming is associated with increased activity in the frontal areas of the brain, areas which are already associated with higher order cognitive functioning.

So, what does this have to do with consciousness? It has been established that there is a marked difference between the two states of dreaming, however, the overall brain state remains the same. By comparing these specific differences in brain activity, the features that facilitate awareness can be highlighted and examined.

The picture above is not related to the story and was taken by Flickr User Sean Hill. It is licensed under Creative Commons.