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why does brain impact cause unconsciousness?

Michael Levin mlevin at husc8.harvard.edu
Fri Sep 17 13:32:18 EST 1993

     Here are my thoughts on the subject of why brain impact causes
unconsciousness, and if anyone has any ideas on this, please let me
know. I am wondering: consider the lightest shock to the head (of a
human, or a mammal in general) which is sufficient to cause
unconsciousness of the temporary variety (being "knocked out"). Is
this kind of shock really so traumatic to the brain as to cause it to
relinquish control of the body and let it just lie there, or is this
some sort of specific mechanism to deal with "stress"?  If it is the
first (i.e., the brain is really injured by such a shock, and is
unable to produce behaviors such as running away, until it recovers),
what exactly is it that's wrong? I can't easily imagine any physical
damage that can be repaired in the span of time in which people
commonly regain consciousness (sometimes minutes). Or am I wrong? WHat
could it be? If, on the other hand, the brain isn't really damaged,
but has a specific mechanism for doing a blackout when hit, then why
did this evolve? It seems to me that a more evolutionarily beneficial
strategy, when hit on the head, would be to run away (or fight) as
best as one can, given whatever injury really happenned, rather than
lay there unconscious. This whole thing reminds me of robots in sci-fi
movies (especially "Terminator"), which when injured, simply keep
doing whatever they were doing, as best as they can, while they still
can (as insects seem to, I think), as opposed to dropping unconscious
from a sub-lethal injury. So, what do people think?  Please email to
mlevin at husc8.harvard.edu. 

Mike Levin

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