We literally have two minds: The Conscious Mind and the Subconscious Mind.
From a big picture neurological view, the brain is composed of four separate regions:
- Cerebral Cortex
- Limbic System
- Brain Stem
The Subconscious Mind, is by far the most powerful and ancient part of the brain. It has been around for millions of years.
The subconscious resides primarily in the Limbic System, Brain Stem and Cerebellum. Your autonomic systems (breathing, blood flow, organ function, immune system), fight or flight and motor memory are controlled by these Subconscious regions.
The Conscious Mind resides of the Cerebral Cortex. This brain region, which has only been around for about 300,000 years, differentiates humans from all other living beings on our planet, since our Cerebral Cortex is disproportionately larger than any other species.
For many years, scientists and neurologists have been seeking the neurological equivalent of the Holy Grail – identifying the exact location inside the brain, where Consciousness resides.
Thanks to a recent study conducted by Emery Brown, Professor of Computational Neuroscience at MIT and of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School, Brown’s team seems to have located humanity’s seat of consciousness.
The researchers had a very specific mission – to understand what is actually happening inside the brain during anesthesia. As happens with many studies, the researchers found themselves following a rabbit hole, which enabled them to identify the specific brain region primarily responsible for Consciousness.
Let me introduce you to the seat of Consciousness, the Thalamus.
The Thalamus is about the size of a quail egg and resides deep inside the Limbic System. The Thalamus’s fundamental role, within the brain, is to relay internal (bodily functions) and external (environment) information to the Cerebral Cortex.
What the researchers discovered in their anesthesia study was that under anesthesia, brain waves slow to a crawl and the Thalamus stops relaying information to the Cerebral Cortex.
Once they understood this, they decided to stimulate the Thalamus region of the brains of monkeys with painless electrodes (the brain has no pain sensors), while the monkeys were under anesthesia. To their surprise the entire brain came alive, with neurons firing as they do during consciousness.
In short, by stimulating the Thalamus, the brain became conscious, despite being under anesthesia.
So, their breakthrough was the discovery that the Thalamus is the master control switch for human consciousness.