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Understanding Consciousness With Physics.

May 25, 2020
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A new study involving Monash physicists has cornered a new perspective to measure consciousness, potentially changing our understanding of complex neurological problems.


The study, was published recently, in Physical Review Research describes how equipments from physics and complexity theory were used to determine the level of consciousness in fruit flies.

Dr. Kavan Modi, from the Monash University School of Physics and Astronomy, who is also the authour of the study, says it's an issue where it is of necessity to tell apart a unresponsive vegetavive patient and a completly paralysed patient.

"This is a major problem in neuroscience, where it is crucial to differentiate between unresponsive vegetative patients and those suffering from a condition in which a patient is aware but cannot move or communicate verbally because of complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body"

Ph.D. candidate Roberto Muñoz, also from the School of Physics and Astronomy, along side Professor Nao Tsuchiya and Dr. kavan Modi himself are members of the research team. And they found a way to measure the level of conscious arousal in fruit flies using the complex signals produced by the brain.

"Our technique allows us to distinguish between flies that have been anesthetized and those that have not, by calculating the time-complexity of the signals, the study is significant because it highlights an objective way to measure conscious arousal, based on well-established ideas from complexity theory," said Dr. Modi.

They also claim that it is potentially applicable to humans and that it can reflects a growing interest in new theories of consciousness that are experimentally testable. The team studied the brain signals produced by 13 fruit flies both when they were awake and when they were anesthetized. They then analyzed the signals to see how complex they were.

"We found the statistical complexity to be larger when a y is awake than when the same y is anaesthetized, this is important because it suggests a reliable way to determine the level of conscious arousal by tapping into a small region of the brain, rather than many parts of the brain. It also suggests that there is a clear marker of conscious arousal that does not depend on specific external stimuli." Dr. Modi said.

The research team finally concluded that applying a similar analysis to other datasets, in particular, human EEG data could lead to new discoveries regarding the relationship between consciousness and complexity.

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