In a study that challenges the diagnosis of vegetative state, doctors found that the brain of a seemingly unconscious, vegetative man responded to yes-or-no questions in the same fashion as an alert, conscious person. This discovery not only complicates the medical definition of consciousness, but seems to call into question centuries of philosophy dealing with the nature of life and the self.
The study covered 54 patients in a supposed vegetative state. Of those 54, five showed some signs of consciousness. Three of those five showed the ability to deliberately respond to stimuli at bedside. Most amazingly though, one of the patients managed to answer a series of yes-or-no questions by altering his brain activity, as measured by a MRI machine.
The questions referred to the patient's family, and included queries like "do you have any brothers?". When the patient was asked "is your father's name Alexander?" (it is), his brain assumed a configuration nearly identical to that of a conscious control subject saying "yes". Similarly, when asked "is your father's name Thomas?", the MRI read brain activity identical to a control person's "no" answer.
So far, wider communication remains impossible, although advances in brain implants may soon change that. However, as that technology enables more and more communication between the seemingly unconscious and the outside world, medicine and society will bump up against the problem of quickly defining consciousness for the sake of treatment, when any solid definition of the mind has eluded philosophers for millennia.
"Would you like us to pull the plug?" I bet he was hoping for that one.
Wow, hook a light bulb up... Cpt Pike from star trek
Isn't 1 out of 54 a bad odd?
I wonder what maybe looks like...
Ste3ve - My thoughts exactly. I can't even imagine being trapped like that, that is if the patient truly is aware of things going on around him.
Nanig04 - This is also the other thought I had. 1 out of 54? Is that to say most people have 'checked out'?
PinkNBlack21 being trapped for decades would be terrible but there are technologies that will allow people to not be trapped any longer.
It needs to be pointed out how much brain matter this man has lost. There is no debating that this tissue can never be recovered (at this time and the forseeable future). Recovery is only possible in theory, but not in pratice. Now there is another twist to the ethics of this debate.
I agree with you that :Recovery is only possible in theory, but not in pratice. thank you for sharing info.
Though there's something more to discuss, I can say that the study is quite a discovery.