Roboroach, anesthesia, and consciousness

RoboRoach, courtesy Backyard Brains

Though not all at once. Two fine and unusual angles one consciousness, that most ephemeral thing without which not much seems to happen.

First, Brandon Keim, at Aeon, asks Do cockroaches have a form of consciousness?:

These days I don’t much like to think of those ant-massacring mornings, but I did after reading about Backyard Brains, a Kickstarter-funded neuroscience education company. The company’s flagship product is RoboRoach, a $99.99 bundle of Bluetooth signal-processing microelectronics that’s glued to the back of a living cockroach and wired into the stumps of its cut-off antennae. Cockroaches use their antennae to detect objects; they react to electrical pulses sent through these nerves as though they have bumped into something, allowing children to remote‑control them with smartphones. Other experiments involve measuring nerve activity in severed roach legs.

Given that few people spare a second thought to kitchen cockroach-stomping or classroom ant farms, the experiments might not seem too troubling. But using the insects like this, rather than killing them or watching them, is a different proposition. Some bioethicists have criticised Backyard Brains for encouraging children to think of living beings as tools, existing not for themselves but for our entertainment and edification. Those misgivings resonated with me. High-school students might do this in biology classes — but children, on the low end of the company’s suggested age‑appropriateness?

[via Do cockroaches have a form of consciousness? – Brandon Keim – Aeon.]

And, separately, Maggie Koerth-Baker, at The New York Times Magazine,  looks at what less-than-perfect anesthesia (you’re aware but can’t tell anyone) can tell us about consciousness:

Studies of anesthesia awareness are full of … horror stories, because administering anesthesia is a tightrope walk. Too much can kill. But too little can leave a patient aware of the procedure and unable to communicate that awareness. For every 1,000 people who undergo general anesthesia, there will be one or two who are not as unconscious as they seem — people who remember their doctors talking, and who are aware of the surgeon’s knife, even while their bodies remain catatonic and passive. For the unlucky 0.13 percent for whom anesthesia goes awry, there’s not really a good preventive. That’s because successful anesthetization requires complete unconsciousness, and consciousness isn’t something we can measure.

via What Anesthesia Can Teach Us About Consciousness –

Both of these are quite rich and highly recommended.