After I went to the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness conference this weekend, I sat down with all the consciousness researchers to discuss why I suffer.
Me: You say that you’re trying to find the neural correlates of consciousness. What exactly does that mean?
Them: Well, it means we think there are specific brain regions and networks that correspond to the process of consciousness.
Me: And how do you figure that kind of shit out?
Them: I mean, there are two leading theories. One theory thinks that consciousness is located in the back region of the brain and has a consciousness structure formed by neuronal connectivity that is active while you’re, say, looking at a picture. The other leading theory says that consciousness is broadcasted through information across the brain through an interconnected network, and it occurs at the front of the brain.
Me: Uh huh. My consciousness is pretty insufferable. Have you figured out if there’s like, a network of suffering?
Them: No, we are still trying to just find a universal consciousness, like the difference between vegetative and wake states, not degrees of consciousness.
Me: Well, that’s not really helpful. I don’t appreciate that your scientific contributions don’t apply specifically to me.
Them: Sorry! There is hope that we might be able to understand the different grades of consciousness, but that’s a far ways off.
Me: Does that mean we really have to sit through another 25 years of chummy bets before we might potentially get to a cure? Though that might be great timing, I’ll be having my midlife crisis then.
Them (philosopher): Well with my hunch that likely won’t be the case at all!
Me: I’m sure you’re very sorry about that right now.
Them (scientists): Don’t lose hope! We are very close to building a theory.
Me: Those study results that were released at the 25 Years of Consciousness public debate didn’t seem to really confirm that any of your theories were correct.
Them (scientists): Yes, but there is plenty of hope. All in good fun. That’s what science is all about, eh? We have to make a logical progression through each discovery.
Me: That’s what privileged people say. Always talking about “logic” and “money” and “time” and “NIH dollars”. I’m not familiar with any of these concepts. Are those things helpful?
Them: Er… yes, well. It’s what we use to conduct research.
Me: Eyes up here.
Them: Sorry, I just spotted a rat running underneath your feet.
Me: It’s New York City, get over it. So anyway, are you gonna, like, find any neural correlates that can give me a will to live? That’d be very helpful.
Them: Not yet… but sorry to hear you’re going through that.
Me: Enough about me. But wager this: my professor says he used to work on finding the neural correlates of PTSD. He says PTSD symptoms have changed over the last century. In WWII, soldiers came home and they just started tremoring and shaking. They thought they had epilepsy, but their brains were fine. What do you make of that?
Them: Well, consciousness is a broad term that isn’t exclusionary to mental illness, so we really can’t say.
Me: Well, it might suggest that there might not be any neural correlates to this stuff at all, right? Given that symptoms with different networks change over time.
Them (scientists): That’s likely a false presumption. Of course they exist.
Me: You’re only saying that because you want to win your bet.
Them (scientists): I mean, why wouldn’t I?
Me: So you’re saying suffering isn’t really a target of consciousness research, just why we feel and perceive things at all?
Me: Thanks so much, you guys should never do therapy.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.
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