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In Context #13 (Spring, 2005, pp. 19-23); copyright 2005 by The Nature Institute

Brain Activity and Conscious Experience
Siegward-M. Elsas

In 1780, Galvani simultaneously discovered electrical currents and laid the foundations of modern neurophysiology (Galvani 1791, p. 363). He found that frog muscles twitch when they come in contact with two different metals, and believed he had discovered the essence of life energy in electricity.

Since Galvani's day we have learned to use electrical technology to study brain function. We also construct robots, which are capable of sensing and recognizing their environment (as in voice recognition), and performing meaningful acts such as greeting guests or cleaning the kitchen (Figure 1). The question has arisen for many: is the human brain a sophisticated computer, and are we really robots? What would be the moral consequences for society if we thought of ourselves in this way?

Figure 1. The Sony SDR-4X is a bipedal humanoid robot. According to Sony, the 2-foot-tall, 13-pound offspring of Sony's Digital Creatures Laboratory can recognize faces, learn new vocabulary, fetch things, and hold "nearly conversations." It sings and dances, too.

Electricity and Physiology

If we connect a loudspeaker, a vo