First evidence for higher state of consciousness found at Imperial

It’s heartening to see that all that drinking, listening to Pink Floyd and setting the world to rights many years ago at my alma mater has finally borne fruit at Imperial

Researchers have uncovered the first scientific evidence of a ‘higher’ state of consciousness.

In the study, neuroscientists observed a sustained increase in the diversity of brain signals of people under the influence of psychedelic drugs, compared with when they were in a normal ‘awake and aware’ state.

This measure of the complexity of brain activity – called neural signal diversity – provides an index of the level of someone’s consciousness.

Scientists have shown that people who are awake have more diverse neural activity using this scale than those who are asleep. Previous studies have tended to focus on lowered states of consciousness, such as when people are asleep, under anaesthesia, or are in a ‘vegetative’ state.

Must’ve been an interesting assignment.

For the study, Michael Schartner, Dr Adam Barrett and Professor Seth of the Sackler Centre reanalysed data that had previously been collected by Imperial College London and the University of Cardiff in which healthy volunteers were given one of three drugs known to induce a psychedelic state: psilocybin, ketamine and LSD.

Poor old Max Cade was there in the 1970s, although without the psychedelic drugs, and elementary observation of the likes of Syd Barrett on acid or listening to some of the, er, stranger Floyd tracks might have shown that LSD alters consciousness, but it’s good to have independent corroboration. Exactly why they chose to use a magnetic imaging technique rather than, say EEG but good for them. Slightly embarrassing for Imperial who did the initial work, it appeared they failed to spot the differences, and it was the University of Sussex who reprocessed the data. Perhaps post-processing had got more powerful since the original results.

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