Three Dimensional Consciousness

Looking into the unconscious mind

Using a new imaging method scientists from the University of Manchester have constructed a three-dimensional sequence of the brain as it loses consciousness. The small study used a new technique called ‘functional electrical impedance tomography of evoked response’ (fEITER), which is basically a new way of measuring changes in the brain’s electrical conductivity. This is useful because changes in electrical conductivity are believed to reflect changes in the brain’s electrical activity and by knowing where abouts in the brain this activity is occurring, we can better understand how the brain operates under different conditions; in this case unconsciousness. What’s great about this new method is that it has an extremely fast response, performing it’s imaging process 100 times a second, allowing the team to monitor the brain’s activity in real time!

Brain awake. Image: University of Manchester

The team used fEITER to scan the brains of 20 healthy volunteers as they were administered an anaesthetic and imaged changes in the brain’s electrical conductivity as it moved from a conscious to an unconscious state. The team found that a loss in consciousness corresponded with changes in electrical activity deep within the brain. The findings support a theory proposed by Professor Susan Greenfield which suggests that consciousness is formed from the unhindered communication between groups of brain cells called ‘neural assemblies’. The findings appear to show that when someone is anaesthetised, these small neural assemblies either work less well together or inhibit communication with other neural assemblies.

The unconscious mind: Changes in the brain's conductivity are shown with the yellow blobs. Image: University of Manchester

The use of fEITER is a great advance and a first for neuroimaging, allowing scientists to witness the brain’s transition into unconsciousness in real-time. However there is still a lot of work to be done to understand exactly how and why the brain behaves differently in an unconscious state. The fEITER device used will also have a significant impact in many areas of medical imaging, but will be particularly useful in helping us understand anaesthesia, sedation and unconsciousness. Perhaps the most useful application of this device will be in diagnosing neuronal changes which occur in head injury, stroke and dementia patients.

You can watch a video of the fEITER scan here.

Painting with Video

Content is Queen

Below are two very novel and dynamic video portraits generated by artist Sergio Albiac. He has come to call the technique used to create these pieces ‘generative video painting’.

You can see in the movie above, that the portrait is constructed from a ‘collage’ of different video clips, similar (but wonderfully more complex) to the effect seen in a photo mosaic image.

Albiac describes that his technique…

 “…uses regions of video content to effectively represent or “paint” heterogeneous regions of the image. Both the partial content of the videos and the whole image are fully visible at the same time, widening the possibilities to deliver meaning in a contemporary aesthetic language.”

The effect creates a duality in the work; presenting an un-synced mish-mash of partially visible video content which is used together to construct a more complete, unified form, in this case portraits of two very famous women.

Portrait of a legacy

I mentioned in a previous post that no space shuttle has ever been fully photographed whilst docked with the International Space Station. However NASA has released today landmark portraits of Endeavour and the ISS taken by Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli on the 23rd of May whilst returning to Earth in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

We'll never be together again: Endeavour docked with the ISS. Image: NASA

This image was made possible by rotating the returning space craft 130 degrees so that Nespoli could take photos and video footage at a distance of about 600m from the ISS. It’s amazing to see the relative size of the space shuttle in comparison to the space station and I must admit, I didn’t realise how big it was! This photo I’m sure will come to represent the lasting legacy of NASAs space shuttle programme and will no doubt be one the most remembered space images of recent times.

You can view more of the images here and additional video footage will be released once it has been processed by NASA.

I’d also recommend having a look at some of Nespoli’s other photos on his flickr account, which hosts a beautiful and diverse collection of shots.