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Action Potentials 101

We say neurons send electrical messages to each other. Really, they send electrochemical signals. What this means is that chemicals in the body of the cell cause an electrical signal. When electrically charged, chemicals are known as ions. In this context, when thinking about neurons, important ions in the nervous system are sodium, potassium (positively charged), calcium (positively charged) and chloride (negatively charged).

When a neuron is at rest, it is not sending a signal. (more…)

Neurons 101

Neurons are brain and nerve cells that transmit electrical activity around the brain and to and from your body, sending messages and allowing you to think. There are several types:

  • Sensory neurons: these carry signals from the outer parts of your body (periphery) into the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord); these help you sense the world around you.
  • Motor neurons: also known as motoneurons, these also carry (more…)

Consciousness through the Minds of Philosophers: Materialism

The soul persists but the body does not, many religions hold, but what if consciousness is just a result of the physical and nothing more? This is what modern materialists hold.

Materialism; a brief history

Materialism rose through the ranks with the advent of (more…)

Consciousness Through the Minds of Philosophers: Dualism

Exploring the true nature of consciousness has plagued the minds of philosophers and scientists alike for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. If you study consciousness, however, you already have a philosophical view on consciousness perhaps without knowing it. A view you might hold is dualism: that a conscious mental state is something non-physical at least in some way. Specific dualist theories may differ on the amount of the non-physical, depending on your view of what….

Dualism; a brief history

Historically, intelligence and thought was considered something non-materialistic and unknowable in the physical – something akin to the soul. This emphasis on the mind rather than the body orginates with Plato, who believed the world to be made of several elements including t (more…)

Measuring Consciousness using fMRI

Functional magnetic resonance imaging is a measure of activity in the brain using an MRI machine. MRI machines generate a magnetic field that can scan a brain for electrical activity. In this way, researchers are not able to know what you are thinking but where you are thinking and associate certain areas with certain purposes. For example, the act of seeing and vision is associated with the back of the brain.

When is comes to measuring consciousness, fMRI scanners are incredibly useful too. They surpass the traditional methods of simply observing a patient’s behaviour (more…)

The Difference between Vegetation and Consciousness

In popular culture comas are practically common place. While a useful plot device in medical fiction, they’re significantly more important in real life as they offer the brain a chance to recover from severe damage caused by stroke, seizure, or traumatic injury. But if a coma is like a reset button for our brain, how how do we tell between those who are minimally conscious and those who are vegetative (that is to say, completely unaware) within a coma? The Glasgow Coma Score (a scale from 3-15, 15 being fully conscious) is commonly used in medical situations to score a patient’s conscious state. This is a satisfactory measure of ability, leaving t (more…)

The Neurology of Consciousness (Book Review)

Every book has to start somewhere, and The Neurology of Consciousness: Cognitive neuroscience and neuropathology begins with a concise introduction exploring the basics of consciousness, coma, and neglect, among other disorders in a well-thought out structure. Described as a “welcome addition to the field”, the contributors to the text include quickly recognizable and prestigious names including (among many others) Drs. James Bernat, (more…)

Schizophrenia and Consciousness

Described in a sincere account as “a toxic tormenting sense of hopelessness, humiliation, and despair”, schizophrenia has haunted Eleanor Longden for her entire life. A one point, attempting to drill a hole her head to stop the voices, now PhD candidate Eleanor revealed to the world on August 8 2013 the stark truth behind schizophrenia and slow recovery.

“The voices were destined to become my persecutors and my only perceived companions. They told me if I proved myself worthy of their help then they could change my life back to how it had been… it was a kind of labour of Hercules”

While for many it is indeed (more…)

Self Injury

To the untrained eye, non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) and suicidal self-injury may seem to be the exact same disorder. This could not be further from the truth. Non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) is defined in the fifth addition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders [link to glossary] (DSM-V) as a condition distinct from borderline personality disorder (BPD)(although NSSI is often associated with additional BPD; 80% of those diagnosed with BPD engage in self-harm), which involves self-inflicted damage without suicidal intent. The manual also stipulates the purpose of this harm is to seek relief from a negative feeling, or to resolve (more…)

Multple Sclerosis and Consciousness

Multple Sclerosis (MS) is the leading cause of neurological disability for young adults in the UK and, according to the MS society, it affects around 100 000 people in the UK. The disease causes axonal demyelination. In simplistic terms, it removes the insulation from the connections between neurons; this is like stripping the plastic insulation from wires — the signal is weakened and, eventually, lost. As you can imagine, this causes a great deal of disruption to the brain most often to the frontal regions.

The “circuits” around (more…)