Kraits and Liberation of Mind!

If we go by a Biblical lore, it was a snake that entrapped humanity into living this sinful and unhappy life.

It is this lore and more has always painted snakes as villains, but reading a small news item scrolling on my TV screen, I am made see a strange possibility of another snake redeeming its clan and showing us a way to ultimate liberation!

A banded krait, a serpent that can claim to be the most venomous land-snake in India was captured from a restaurant located close to SG Highway in Ahmedabad.

While I had presumed it to be its first sighting in Ahmedabad, it seems to be third time lucky in becoming a news item. 

Though it is captured from a populated area, as the restaurant is close to farmland, it is not ecologically surprising to find it; but as this larger cousin of more common krait is now extremely rare in western India, I want to use it to introduce readers to equally rare and incredibly strange brain-state known as Locked-In Syndrome (LIS) that kraits are linked with.

While we tend to look at venomous snakes as wanton killers, they are actually hunters armed with a weapon matching their needs. As snakes have given up limbs for better access to subterranean and arboreal prey, they don’t have the ability of fast pursuit and hence some of them have evolved a tool to paralyse the prey.

Kraits are snakes armed with a cocktail of neurotoxins that lethal as it causes death of its victim paralysing muscles including those required for breathing. So, if one is bitten by a krait, death is caused by asphyxiation as diaphragm and other muscles used for breathing can function.

In case of banded krait, the situation gets more complicated as we don’t have species-specific anti-venom available for this uncommon snake. Thankfully banded krait is comparatively less aggressive, so bites are rare and fatality is rarer.

As kraits don’t prey on humans, its venom is obviously not tailor-made for killing us. But, as we share biological processes with other life forms it preys upon, we are also susceptible to the deadly effect of their venom, but with a quirky twist.

It is often observed that a krait-bite victim is so devoid of any kind of motor-ability and reflexes that he can be adjudged dead by people around him. And strangely, while people could be treating him as dead, the person could be fully aware and conscious because krait toxin does not affect the parts of “upper” brain involved with cognitive functions. There have been cases where a person is placed on funeral pyre while he is fully aware but completely locked-in to communicate.

As human consciousness is touted as a holistic and mystical phenomenon unique to us, Locked-In Syndrome poses a curious question.

LIS suggests that consciousness has mundane physicality as it can be disconnected from the body by some random protein molecules just because they possess a shape that can hack brain-chemistry by fitting in some receptors.

Though LIS poses an uncomfortable possibility that human consciousness is not something deep and mysterious but is emerging from a mere physical interplay of molecules, it is also loaded with opportunities.

It tells us that human consciousness has a life of its own beyond the human body.

As cognitive functions of LIS victims remain intact, their “self” and self-awareness remain unharmed and hence they are complete humans in all sense but sans a body. 

Though it may sound a bit far fetched, this can be extrapolated to deduce something very deep.

The existence of LIS induced state suggests that it could be possible to isolate “self” and thus indicates a crazy possibility of moving a “person” from body to body or even body to artificial body using this unique quirk of our brain.

As brain sciences and technologies advance, we could soon be at a cusp between being embodied minds and pure body-independent minds. There is no doubt that we would like to cross this cusp and soon.

Locked-In Syndrome, at this point, is a horrific brain-state where human mind faces the worst possible entrapment, but it is also a ray of hope for humanity that will want to leap out of the biological limitations of existence.

So, the Biblical snake may or may not have trapped us, but a real snake has surely opened up a possibility for ultimate liberation of humanity.

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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