The brain basis of a "consciousness monitor": Scientific and medical significance

Consciousness and Cognition 10 (2):159-164 (2001)
Abstract
Surgical patients under anesthesia can wake up unpredictably and be exposed to intense, traumatic pain. Current medical techniques cannot maintain depth of anesthesia at a perfectly stable and safe level; the depth of unconsciousness may change from moment to moment. Without an effective consciousness monitor anesthesiologists may not be able to adjust dosages in time to protect patients from pain. An estimated 40,000 to 200,000 midoperative awakenings may occur in the United States annually. E. R. John and coauthors present the scientific basis of a practical ''consciousness monitor'' in two articles. One article is empirical and shows widespread and consistent electrical field changes across subjects and anesthetic agents as soon as consciousness is lost; these changes reverse when consciousness is regained afterward. These findings form the basis of a surgical consciousness monitor that recently received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This may be the first practical application of research on the brain basis of consciousness. The other John article suggests theoretical explanations at three levels, a neurophysiological account of anesthesia, a neural dynamic account of conscious and unconscious states, and an integrative field theory. Of these, the neurophysiology is the best understood. Neural dynamics is evolving rapidly, with several alternative points of view. The field theory sketched here is the most novel and controversial.
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E. Roy John (2001). A Field Theory of Consciousness. Consciousness and Cognition 10 (2):184-213.
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