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 characterizing them. One such approach, described in a new Proceedings of the Royal Society Interface study, involves not simply networks but networks of networks.
Perhaps some aspects of consciousness arise from these meta-networks—and to investigate the proposition, the researchers analyzed fMRI scans of 15 people after being injected with psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, and compared them to scans of their brain activity after receiving a placebo.
Investigating psychedelia wasn't the direct purpose of the experiment, said study co-author Giovanni Petri, a mathematician at Italy's Institute for Scientific Interchange. Rather, psilocybin makes for an ideal test system: It's a sure-fire way of altering consciousness.