TR: So how do you plan to understand the link between activity in specific parts of the brain and consciousness?
BN: I don’t now how to figure it out, but it seems to me that stimulating a human brain such as my own would be a good place to start. If I could stimulate my MT, then, presumably I would know and could say whether I really see the [actual] dots moving [as in the monkey experiments] or something else altogether. This would be a start toward identifying the [specific aspects of consciousness that accompany] neural activation at different points in the nervous system.
TR: Do you think you could really get regulatory approval? What are the major ethical issues?
BN: Getting approval to do something like this would be difficult. Any human experiments in this country are under rigorous scrutiny. Lawyers and administrators at institutions take a dim view of this kind of thing because of the liability issues. And there is a definite slippery slope argument. I might be able to make a case for my own experiment, but it could set precedent for others for whom it would be more risky.
For example, if I did this experiment, it would probably be a big deal and get in the newspapers. Some young graduate student might see it as a way to get ahead in his career and decide to do it. He might put himself at greater risk than I would. Maybe he would probe deeper into his brain, where there is more risk of damaging the vasculature. It would be uncomfortable to think that I was responsible in part for that, even if my own adventure turned out just fine.
TR: Do you really want to do this?
BN: Well, I’ve thought about it very carefully. I’ve talked to neurosurgeons, both in the United States and outside the country where the regulatory environment is less strict, about how practical and risky it is. If the risk of serious postsurgical complications was one in one hundred, I wouldn’t do it. If it was one in one thousand, I would seriously consider doing it. To my chagrin, most surgeons estimate the risk to be somewhere in between my benchmarks.