A new way of looking at brain activity may give insight into how psychedelic drugs produce their consciousness-altering effects.
In recent years, a focus on brain structures and regions has given way to an emphasis on neurological networks: how cells and regions interact, with consciousness shaped not by any given set of brain regions, but by their interplay.
Understanding the networks, however, is no easy task, and researchers are developing ever more sophisticated ways of characterising them. One such approach, described in a new Proceedings of the Royal Society Interface study, involves not simply networks but networks of networks.
Commentary by Dr Oliver Cokerell, Consultant Neurologist
I read this article with great interest although there is no sense, from the research, that at present this has any practical applications. This is real, basic science at its best, in which researchers are testing concepts. The old idea of the brain activity was that each part of the brain was responsible for a particular activity. For example, motor activity is controlled from the motor strip in the prefrontal cortexand speech is controlled in the speech (Broca’s) area. However, more modern concepts of understanding how the brain works have invoked the concept of whole brain network activity. This is neurobiologists and neurophilosophers, who think that consciousness and sense of personality and self are the products of network activity rather than being referable to one particular part of the brain.
These mathematical models developed by the researchers are a potentially exciting way to understand these networks. As yet, their research is only in its infancy and I would suggest that the use of psychopsilocybin would not have passed Ethics Committee approval in the UK. Nevertheless, it is an interesting idea and I await further developments with much interest.