It sounds like an anesthesiologist is doing a double-slit experiment with the brain. Are they indeed saying that consciousness exists as a wave, and anesthesia breaks the wave function so that there are only “pieces” – which would be like consciousness particles? If so, any drug that could somehow “observe” (read: interfere) with the electrons specific to the consciousness wave would cause perfect anesthesia. I’m not sure that the researcher makes this conclusion exactly (The Atlantic undoubtedly dumbed things down).
Quote from Joshua Lang’s “Awakening”:
Compare the brain to New York City: just as cars navigate the city’s neighborhoods via a patchwork of streets, bridges, tunnels, and highways, electrical signals traverse the brain via a meshwork of neurons. Tononi’s theory predicts that in a fully conscious brain, traffic in one neighborhood will affect traffic in other neighborhoods, but that as consciousness fades—for instance, during sleep or anesthesia—this ripple effect will decrease or disappear.
In 2008, in one of several experiments demonstrating this effect, Tononi pulsed the brains of 10 fully conscious subjects with his electromagnetic gun—the equivalent of, say, injecting a flood of new cars into SoHo. The traffic (the electromagnetic waves) rippled across Manhattan (the brain): things jammed up in Tribeca and Greenwich Village, even in Chelsea. Tononi’s EEG electrodes captured ripples and reverberations that were different for every subject and for every region of the brain, patterns as complex and varied as the traffic in Manhattan on any given day.
Tononi then put the same subjects under anesthesia. Before he pulsed his gun again, the subjects’ brain traffic seemed as busy as when they were conscious: cars still circulated in SoHo and Tribeca, in Greenwich Village and Chelsea. But the pulse had a drastically different effect: This time, the traffic jam was confined to SoHo. No more ripples. “It’s as if [the brain] has fragmented into pieces,” Tononi told me. He published these findings in 2010, and also used them to file a patent for “a method for assessing anesthetization.”