Anesthesia and Consciousness

As anyone unfortunate to have experienced with any frequency will tell you, anesthesia is a strange thing. One moment you’re in the operating room, chatting nervously with the people who will soon hold your life in their hands, and the next, you’re staring at the ceiling of the recovery room. It’s not like sleep, with it’s natural transition from one state to the next; it’s abrupt, and disorienting.

The Atlantic recently published long-form article roughly focusing on consciousness through the lens of anesthesia. While I wasn’t in love with how the article handled the discussion of awareness during surgery, overall it’s well written and touches on many of the key issues involved in trying to figure out this whole consciousness thing. Moreover, it reminded me of a talk given by Gilles Plourde at the Cognitive Sciences Summer Institute on the Evolution and Function of Consciousness, which I had the honor of attending last summer. Dr. Plourde (who I’m surprised wasn’t mentioned in the article) is an anesthesiologist with a tremendous moustache who has done some really interesting work using brain imaging and electrophysiology to try and figure out what exactly anesthetics do to disrupt consciousness (tl;dr, it’s probably got a lot to do with thalamocortical communication). All of the sessions during the Summer Institute were recorded and and put online, and I’ve embedded Dr. Plourde’s talk below (though I strongly encourage you to check out the full list).

Somewhat related, there have been a bunch interesting papers recently on how anesthetics influence functional connectivity in the brain:

Lewis, L. D., Weiner, V. S., Mukamel, E. A., Donoghue, J. A., Eskandar, E. N., Madsen, J. R., et al. (2012). Rapid fragmentation of neuronal networks at the onset of propofol-induced unconsciousness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109(49), E3377–86. doi:10.1073/pnas.1210907109

Heine, L., Soddu, A., Gómez, F., Vanhaudenhuyse, A., Tshibanda, L., Thonnard, M., et al. (2012). Resting state networks and consciousness: alterations of multiple resting state network connectivity in physiological, pharmacological, and pathological consciousness States. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 295. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00295

Liang, Z., King, J., & Zhang, N. (2012). Intrinsic organization of the anesthetized brain. The Journal of Neuroscience, 32(30), 10183–10191. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1020-12.2012

Schröter, M. S., Spoormaker, V. I., Schorer, A., Wohlschläger, A., Czisch, M., Kochs, E. F., et al. (2012). Spatiotemporal Reconfiguration of Large-Scale Brain Functional Networks during Propofol-Induced Loss of Consciousness. The Journal of Neuroscience, 32(37), 12832–12840. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6046-11.2012


Get well soon, Amit

Amit and the rest of the House 2.0 crew at Amit's goodbye party in August 2007.

I just found out (through Stellar of all places) that Photojojo founder and all-around super nice guy Amit Gupta was recently diagnosed with leukemia. I don’t remember how I first met Amit, but I do know he was the first person I knew in NYC. When I was making my move to the city, he invited me to stay at House 2.0 during my scouting trips, despite the fact we had never met in person. It was there that I spent my first month in the city, where I was first exposed to Jelly, met Tony, and became a part of the NYC tech community. Thanks to his kindness, a city with a reupation for being cold and lonely quickly became my home. Get well soon buddy.

Update: Postagram will let you send a free postcard to Amit from your iPhone or Android.

Update 2: Amit needs a bone marrow transplant, but because of the small number of South Asians in the donor registry, his chances of finding a good match are very slim. If you or someone you know is of South Asian descent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, or Sri Lanka), it’s easy and free to get tested. If you’re in NYC, come to the Brown Bones Benefit Party next Friday and join the donor registry there.

In Time

New film from Andrew Niccol, director of Gattaca (one of my very favorite sci-fi movies).

In the late 21st century, time has replaced money as the unit of currency. At 25 years old, aging stops and each person is given one more year to live. Unless you replenish your clock, you die.

Introduction to NMR/MRI

FMRI has become an industry standard for neuroimaging, and while it’s relatively easy to understand the basics of the BOLD response and how neural activity can effect blood flow, trying to visualize the fundamentals of MRI physics can be really difficult. Luckily, friendly New Zealand company Magritek has produced an incredibly easy to follow and informative series of videos covering the basic physics of magnetic resonance all the way up through 2D MRI. They also make a really neat desktop MRI apparatus that uses the Earth’s magnetic field as its primary field, thus avoiding the need for cryogenics and superconducting magnets.

Disproving Radical Solipsism with Microsoft Excel

Start digging at all deeply into the problem of consciousness and philosophy of mind, and you’ll quickly encounter arguments of radical solipsism, the view that it is impossible to prove the existence of anything other than your own conscious experience, and certainly not any external reality. Though most philosophers don’t take this claim very seriously, there has yet to be made a convincing argument against it.

Eric Schwitzgebel has just posted an interesting argument suggesting that there may be ways to experimentally disprove radical solipsism, using nothing more than your own mathematical ability and a copy of Excel. It’s certainly preliminary work, but fascinating nonetheless.

Fight of the Century: Keynes vs. Hayek Round Two

The original lyrical economic throw-down was posted to youtube by EconStories over a year ago and has since racked up over 2 million views, and for good reason. It was catchy, informative, and taught me I was a staunch Hayekian. Now the duo are back to debate economic policy as we come out of the recession. The NYT has an interview with the creator.

Keynes vs. Hayek: A Rap Battle Renewed –