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No. 105: May-Jun 1996

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Learning Under Anaesthesia

The first paragraph of this long review article defines the anomaly well.

"A patient undergoing surgery with general anaesthesia can reasonably expect to remember nothing about the operation on recovery. Cases of direct recall of intraoperative events have been reported, but these are rare and are nearly always attributable to faulty anaesthetic technique or apparatus failure. However, a study by Levinson in 1965 alerted people to the possibility that information processing may continue despite clinically adequate anaesthesia: In this study, he subjected 10 dental surgery patients to a mock crisis in which, mid-operation, the anaesthetist exclaimed, 'Stop the operation, I don't like the patient's colour. His/ her lips are much too blue. I'm going to give a little oxygen'. Subsequently, patients had no recall for the 'crisis'. However, under hypnosis one month later, four of them repeated verbatim the anaesthetist's exclamation and four showed evidence of partial recall."

Such experiments suggest strongly that perception and some sort of learning occurs even when a person is clinically unconscious. Does this mean that consciousness is not essential to the learning process?

(Andrade, Jackie; "Learning during Anaesthesia: A Review," British Journal of Psychology, 86:479, 1995)

Comment. The foregoing supports those anecdotes in which a person "sleeps on a problem" and awakes with the solution. From personal experience, this works with crossword puzzles and cryptograms.

From Science Frontiers #105, MAY-JUN 1996. 1996-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987