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May 22, 2005

BehindTheMedspeak: How anesthesiologists view consciousness

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Anesthesiologists — repeated observers of the disappearance and reemergence of consciousness — might offer a unique perspective on the meaning of consciousness.

Dr. Juan Pulido and Dr. John Sill of the Department of Anesthesia at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota, emailed 154 attendings, resident and fellows in their department and requested they answer a series of questions addressing different points of view regarding the nature of consciousness.

52 (34%) responded, an impressively high rate for studies of this nature.

The responses revealed a predominant belief in the possibility that consciousness cannot be conveniently and completely explained by conventional science.

Most anesthesiologists in the survey had a "dualist" perspective, believing that thought is distinct from the physical brain from which it emerges.

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Thus, the mind accounts for physical processes within the brain but inner experience cannot be explained merely by molecular interaction.

The survey included five statements, each reflecting a classic or modern philosophic point of view on consciousness.

The points of view included reductionism, Cartesian dualism, epiphenomenalism, idealism and phenomenal dualism.

Those surveyed were asked if they "agreed," were "uncertain" or "disagreed" with the statements.

69% of the respondents agreed with the phenomenal dualist perspective — i.e., that processes within the brain can never fully account for first–person experience or the feeling of "what it is like to be."

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Even so, the reductionist position — that consciousness is the result of neuronal and molecular interactions — received almost 50% support.

The work was presented at the 2004 PostGraduate Assembly in Anesthesiology in New York and reported in the May 2005 issue of Anesthesiology News.

May 22, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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