Steven Laureys is a neuroscientist who studies the states of consciousness in patients in a coma. Who isn’t fascinated by the mysterious feeling of “being there”, what makes us conscious?
Steven Laureys leads the Coma Science Group at the GIGA Consciouness Centre of the University of Liège in Belgium. He is the author of several publications on consciousness, awareness, coma and the recovery of neurological disability, and the recipient of honours and award for his scientific and communication activities.
Human consciousness is one of the biggest mysteries for scientists to solve
Highlights from the episode
00:34 Where does the state-of-the-art technology that neuroscientists use today come from? Who designs it, who produces it?
00:43 What made Galileo such a good scientist is that he had good telescopes.
1:49 Steven mentions the European project LUMINOUS (2016-2019): Studying, Measuring and Altering Consciousness through information theory in the electrical brain
3:05 What is the main difference between a fully functioning brain and a damaged brain? What stands out in the observation of these brains?
4:42 Why are small wearable devices relevant to Steven Laurey’s work, as opposed to large and expensive equipment found at the university hospital where he and his team work?
6:31 Steven talks about wearable devices for self-monitoring purposes, and gives some examples.
6:50 Steven ran the New York marathon in 2019, wearing a device that monitored his brain activity throuout the performance.
8:33 The ability to stimulate the brain and influence its activity may open up new application scenarios besides rehabilitation, including leisure, enhanced creativity, super-consciousness.
9:35 Following up on the previous point, about applications that are not medical rehabilitation, Steven acknowledges that brain-computer interface technology can be used for less than good purposes, but he also says that this is the case for all of science – for example, radioactivity.
10:05 Steven talks about the importance of submitting scientific work to ethical boards, but also of the importance of “courage and creativity” in bringing care to suffering patients.
14:03 How is Europe doing in comparison with the rest of the world in terms of ethics regulations and the relative administrative burden on the research?
15:50 “I would like to see more science in the media” says Steven Laureys.
16:28 The balance we need to strike between doing difficult research and protecting the citizens is an open discussion that we need to keep having: technology advances and allows us to do new things, and as a consequence policy regulations must follow.
Companies and startups mentioned in the interview
Redefining death: The neurosciences understanding of human consciousness
Near death experiences, for example: are they a scientific problem, or simply fantastic stories reported by people with a vivid imagination? Steven Laureys’ approach combines the scientific method with an open mind attitude, avoiding dogmatism – which is precisely how science should advance, “being critical about your own criticism”.
Critics say that altered states of mind cannot be studied: Steven Laureys suggests that we do, “trying to confront what you think you understand with what you think you measure.”
The episode was originally published on this page.
Featured image credit: Federica Bressan