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Sometimes examining how a process fails enlightens us to how it works. Consciousness—awareness of what we are doing and what we have just done—breaks down in people afflicted with epilepsy. Recent advances in mapping the spread of epileptic seizures have allowed the authors to align the unique fractures in consciousness that occur during seizures with the interference that seizures cause in specific areas of the brain. One type of seizure suggests that one component of consciousness is provided by ongoing memory, which allows us to use the knowledge of the immediate past and anticipate the immediate future. Another type of seizure suggests that an integral component of consciousness is the voluntary control of intentions. The authors conclude that it may be possible to differentiate consciousness into functional components, rather than assuming it is an indivisible quality of mind.
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