Pain is a horrible side effect that occurs when the body is damaged, which can be useful, but it also happens with various body conditions such as childbirth, which seems pointless. So, using our initiative we humans have explored and developed ways to handle pain, and sometimes block it. Analgesia directly blocks the sensation of pain. Another approach works by removing our conscious awareness of life in the body. This is called general anaesthesia, and is a kind of mini death that stops the clock. Here, body-based awareness, and for many people the experience of having a mind, simply switches off for a while and then switches back on, picking up again as if no time has passed. But what is going on when this happens?
Consciousness occurs in different forms. There are states that affect our connecting with others and the world outside our mind, such as daydreaming and trance states. There are the states met in sleep - which still baffle science - such as sleep-walking, lucid dreaming, as well as deep and light sleep. There there are conditions where time and that sensation of living life seem to stop. As examples of such unconsciousness we have vegetative coma and the condition of general anaesthesia, which is considered to be a reversible condition.
There are no directly physical processes used today for anaesthesia, unless we count being knocked unconscious by a blow to the head. Instead, chemicals are used. In the 1800s the method was to drip fluid onto cloth placed over nose and mouth or use a cloth doused in the stuff - chloroform or ether. But these chemicals were dangerous, often killing people or causing organ or brain damage. Current cocktails of chemicals used to induce anaesthesia are considered safer, and thankfully often don't produce as much nausea after 'waking'.
In past years, I came across a book written by an orthopaedic medical doctor and researcher called Robert O. Becker, along with Gary Seldon: The Body Electric: Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life, published in 1985. This showed me that another approach to anaesthesia also exists, which is seldom spoken about. Why it has not gained traction is unknown, except perhaps that scientific fashion in the days of its discovery resulted in exclusion, or perhaps that there was little money to be made in using it.
Becker was working on tissue regeneration, and particularly fascinated with electrical polarity across tissues and body parts. He discovered that polarity was intimately involved. And although you have probably never heard of him, what he discovered has been 'rediscovered' recently as the basis for regeneration of nerve tracts and reversal of paraplegia.
During his research he changed focus at one point to investigate polarity across the brain, and saw that it existed here as well. His first work involved salamanders (which have the capacity to regrow limbs), and then Becker found the same evidence in humans. He wondered what might happen if this polarity were reversed.
Using a magnet, Becker induced a switch in the polarity (since magnetic and electrical fields are interlinked). The result? The salamander instantly lost consciousness. His experimentation on anaesthesia (spelled anesthesia in Becker's work since he was American), as it applies to humans, is available in his book (page 116), as well as other chapters, such as chapter 13 (specifically page 238 onward).
It seems that during both sleep and an induced unconscious state, the polarity of the direct current reverses in the brain. This apparently also occurs to some extent during hypnosis. By contrast, in normal wakefulness there is a negative front polarity and a positive back of the head polarity.
To explain the process in a little more detail, this reversal across the brain from front to back can be achieved by applying a magnetic field across the head at right-angles, which produces/controls the flow of electrical current. This is basically how we produce electricity from a motor: a magnet is placed (and moved) within a coil of copper wire, inducing electrical current to flow in the wire.
Leaving anaesthesia for a moment, since Becker found that polarity is important in tissue regeneration, could such reversal which also occurs during sleep help to explain why we need to sleep - that period of switching off? Perhaps such a regular, naturally produced reversal is needed in order to regenerate brain tissue and function.
It has to be stated though, that an imposed switching of electrical potential is an undeveloped technique and maybe even has some issues with safety. But then again, current anaesthesia may not be quite as safe as we are led to believe. Although seldom represented as harmful, beyond the chance that we may not 'wake up', new research indicates that the chemicals used may be damaging especially for the developing brain and the aged brain.
As for the modern story about what happens in the brain with general anaesthesia, when it is subjected to these chemicals, there are a couple of useful published reviews (here and here) on the topic. These note that distinct changes occur in the activity level and contentedness of deep brain regions under such drugging, which is associated with a falling apart of linked activity. The story is quite fascinating in itself, but in the interests of brevity, best left for another day.
Till next time – B.W. Cribb