Clearly, then, the fact that a man was able to maintain consciousness with nothing but a sliver of cortical neurons rains all over the theories put forward by the great many neuroscientists who have sought the origins of consciousness in the structure of the brain. It may, however, add weight to the arguments made by other researchers who claim that brain anatomy is not actually all that vital for consciousness, which instead arises simply via the ways in which neurons communicate with one other.
For instance, a recent study looking into the patterns of neural activity that give rise to thoughts found that neurons rarely send signals to one another by the most direct route when communicating, but instead explore every possible connection and channel, producing a complex and highly improvised impulse. This idea also forms the basis of what Axel Cleeremans has termed the “Radical Plasticity Theory”, which suggests that consciousness arises as a result of the brain continually reflecting on itself in order to “learn” how to become self-aware.
Undoubtedly, though, there are a whole host of questions still to be answered, and the majority of theories regarding the nature of consciousness are yet to be fully developed. On the plus side, at least we know what was making that French guy’s leg hurt.
Image: Scans showed that the man's ventricles had swollen so much that they had replaced the majority of the man's brain. Feuillet et al/ The Lancet