/ Modified mar 29, 2012 3:28 p.m.

Doctor Asks: What Is Consciousness?

Anesthesiologist says his discipline offers insight into an elusive question

Producer Luis Carrion explores of the concept of consciousness and what makes us human. (VIDEO: AZPM)

What is consciousness? Stuart Hameroff, director of the University of Arizona Center for Consciousness Studies, says this is a question that has motivated inquiry in theology, philosophy, neuroscience, and cognitive science.

“It’s the most interesting and important question there is,” says Hameroff.

Hameroff is also an anesthesiologist, and he says complex medical procedures like the ones taking place daily at the University of Arizona Medical Center would not be possible without the advent of modern techniques that allow doctors to control consciousness in patients.

“My research has to do with consciousness, and how the brain produces conscious experience,” says Hameroff. “Part of it has to do with studying anesthesia, how anesthetic gases act in the brain to selectively erase consciousness, sparing other brain activities. The brain is quite active while under anesthesia, just what's missing is consciousness."

Hameroff points out that other disciplines have other perspectives on consciousness. The Center for Consciousness Studies is sponsoring the 10th biennial "Toward a Science of Consciousness" conference to bring some of those perspectives together.

Hameroff says it’s the world's largest and longest-running interdisciplinary gathering to address how the brain produces consciousness, the nature of reality and humanity's place in the universe.

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The tenth biennial "Toward a Science of Consciousness" conference will take place April 9-14, 2012 in the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort Hotel at 7000 North Resort Drive in Tucson.

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