Turn off your brain: Scientists have found the on/off switch for our consciousness

Contributed by
Jul 7, 2014, 3:02 PM EDT

Yes, we all sleep, but scientists have never actually figured out the exact part of our brains that can turn our consciousness on and off. Until now.

While monitoring a woman with epileptic seizures, researchers at George Washington University were using deep brain electrodes to study brain signals in an effort to pinpoint the origin of her seizures. But when one of the electrodes was placed on the claustrum, a thin sheet of neurons running between major structures of the brain, the patient lost consciousness immediately.

In what sounds like an extremely creepy thing to watch, the researchers sent high-frequency electrical signals to the area and the woman’s activity immediately stopped as she began to “slow down” until she was finally silent and still, unresponsive to stimulation. Once the signals stopped, she regained full consciousness with no memory of the event.

Though the find still needs more research, scientist Christof Koch told New Scientist the discovery takes humanity one step closer to understanding what it means to actually be conscious:

“Ultimately, if we know how consciousness is created and which parts of the brain are involved then we can understand who has it and who doesn't. Do robots have it? Do fetuses? Does a cat or dog or worm? This study is incredibly intriguing but it is one brick in a large edifice of consciousness that we're trying to build.”

Who knows, give it a few years and we might be able to just flip a switch to get in a catnap immediately. Just, y’know, don’t forget to set that wake-up timer.

(Via New Scientist, Gizmodo)