What constitutes consciousness--not in the philosophical sense, but clinically speaking--has been a matter of great debate in scientific circles lately, particularly as new technological applications allow neuroscientists to peek deeper into the brains of those thought to be in vegetative states. Now, a cheap and portable EEG device has been developed that has detected signs of consciousness in three people previously thought to be in vegetative states.
The same team that shook up the established line of thinking back in 2005 by using functional MRI to show consciousness in a person thought to be in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) has now shown that relatively inexpensive electroencephalogram (EEG) can do the same thing. The wide availability and low cost of EEG--which uses electrodes placed on the scalp to sense electrical activity in the brain--spells an accessible bedside solution for determining consciousness where fMRI did not.
The team of researchers behind the new method tried it out on 16 people thought to be in a PVS. The subjects were asked to imagine performing certain physical tasks, like wiggling their toes or making a fist. In three of the subjects, the brain regions that control those actions showed activity when given the command, demonstrating not only that the subject could hear the researchers, but that they could understand and respond accordingly.
It's difficult to know whether the responses are made consciously or unconsciously without more tests, but the researchers plan to continue pushing forward. Conceivably the EEG method could lead to a means of communicating with patients thought to be in a PVS. And the ability to communicate with those once thought to be unconscious could make them active participants in their own therapies. From there, a brain-computer interface might even grant patients' even greater communicative skills via a computer with a brain controlled cursor.
Metalica's "ONE" comes to mind, probably one of the greatest songs ever written.
And what if we add a few coils and batteries and start sending little jolts to the patients brain?
Maybe we can jump start the brain!
It could be a cool experiment to connect two normal people together, brain to brain. Keep them connected for 24\7, one week, if they could tolerate the connection that long.
Perhaps we could establish a hardwire brain communication?
Or maybe over time, a consciousness mind would eventually stimulate and wake up an unconsciousness mind?
Science sees no further than what it can sense.
Religion sees beyond the senses.
There is a scary thought here... roughly 1/3 of the patients they tested showed that they were potentially conscious and able to think but not actually do anything. Could there really be hundreds or thousands of people out there who are trapped in their own brains? Conscious for years while being taken care of but with no ability to make ANY motions? I can't even imagine how horrible that would be! Trapped inside your own body with no way to do anything or communicate with the rest of the world.
I'm going to go change my living will to show that if I'm thought to be in a PVS that they should just give me a nice big dose of morphine until I slip quietly away. That way there's no chance I'm trapped in my body for years or decades all alone. Maybe one day if doctors figure out a way to bring trapped people out of PVS, I'll change my living will back.
Correction... 1/5 of patients... derp. =P
A fun read from an old POPSCI article.
Happiness is a Warm Electrode!
it's sad to think that a lot of people (who are in vegetative state) have been subjected euthanasia :(
Just a crazy thought but... When this thing is small enough, can we put this in helmets and control attack drones and such? Just some crazy thinking on my part
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so we put our dogs and cats out of their misery but will subject our loved ones to basicaly torture to keep them alive, it will be years or never before anything can be done to bring these people back, that's even if there is anyone to come back, negative cheers
Drchuck, clearly we have been wrong to assume they are all brain dead which my have been the case of Terri Schiavo, and you are no more correct to assume that they experience torture in that state.
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Thanks for sharing,
Wait a minute. This study was done by the University of Western Ontario, an establishment not known for accuracy or use of the scientic method or just plain honesty in their research. Never believe any pronouncements by this University. Their faculty and research are always suspect based on the number of idiotic proclamations and conclusions made over the past 30 years from their "research."