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Saturday, February 5, 2022

Can Brain Organoids Be ‘Conscious’? Scientists May Soon Find Out

Anil Seth
Originally posted 20 DEC 21

Here is an excerpt:

The challenge here is that we are still not sure how to define consciousness in a fully formed human brain, let alone in a small cluster of cells grown in a lab. But there are some promising avenues to explore. One prominent candidate for a brain signature of consciousness is its response to a perturbation. If you stimulate a conscious brain with a pulse of energy, the electrical echo will reverberate in complex patterns over time and space. Do the same thing to an unconscious brain and the echo will be very simple—like throwing a stone into still water. The neuroscientist Marcello Massimini and his team at the University of Milan have used this discovery to detect residual or “covert” consciousness in behaviorally unresponsive patients with severe brain injury. What happens to brain organoids when stimulated this way remains unknown—and it is not yet clear how the results might be interpreted.

As brain organoids develop increasingly similar dynamics to those observed in conscious human brains, we will have to reconsider both what we take to be reliable brain signatures of consciousness in humans, and what criteria we might adopt to ascribe consciousness to something made not born.

The ethical implications of this are obvious. A conscious organoid might consciously suffer and we may never recognize its suffering since it cannot express anything.