The How of Consciousness?

For years scientists have been looking hard to find why we have a conscious state. Being self aware has pushed us to the top of the food chain. It has made one of the least equipped species on the planet rise above the game. Scientists know that neuron damage can erase a persons identity, as can disease. Now neurologists studying old world monkeys have made an important discovery. The article was released this month in Neuron.

Scientists found a rare neuron in macaques during an unrelated study. These neurons are three times the size of other neurons and have bushy branches of dendrites on the end. While they are not yet fully understood, some scientists believe they are responsible for consciousness. They are neurons thought to be responsible for empathy and self awareness. These cells have been found in humans, but had not been found in old world monkeys prior to this, even in studies to try and locate them.

Finding these cells leads to a lot of possibilities, since future studies can target their behavior. If they can be identified in more primates it could show a corresponding link between our conscious state and the intelligence that is shown in other primates. The study did not state how many species might have these neurons, but if they are located in higher thinking mammals and primates, we could identify an evolutionary trend. The cells that were identified as Economo neurons were smaller than the human version, and may not operate at the capacity of human neural cells. This has left scientists perplexed about the function of these cells in old world monkeys.

As we continue towards higher levels of understanding we might see changes in our neurons making the study of these of  greater importance. Our ability to understand, and become greater self aware beings might lie in these peculiar cells. While humans are self aware on a personal level, our altruistic levels have a limit to the extension to which they function. The greater the need for altruism, the less we are willing to give, but increasing neurons that create empathy, and self awareness might lead to a global empathy and awareness in a constant state. Over time as we evolve changes in the size of these cells may change mans complex nature, to a greater extent.

While these will need a lot of intense study, including the protein and chemical receptor activity it is a important  move away from the creationist theory. Once the conscious state can be explained it is one more gap closed forever, in the book of evolution. Especially if we begin to see other primates move towards a conscious state.Since our brain is the larger of many primates, it stands to reason our neurons in important functions would be larger.

It may explain why dolphins are so aware, and have communication skills. Or why chimps are able to sign, and understand their identity. We now know that we are not the only species carrying these important neurons. While the old world monkeys might not have been as large as ours, and much speculation exists to their action, the discovery holds a lot of potential. As we gain knowledge about the types and functions of neurons within our brains, we can unlock the key to our understanding the world around us. While these cells are still speculation, it shows that science continues to leap forward even when not making the attempt.

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