Saturday, September 09, 2006

Is She Vegetative or Conscious?

I've gotten several emails in response to yesterday's post about scientists finding brain activity in a vegetative patient ... everyone wants to know, What does it mean? Is this woman aware? Are people euthanizing conscious beings when they cut off life support for vegetative patients? The answer: No one knows. Over at "Brains," a blog run by my friend Gualtiero Piccinini, there's this interesting post by a philosopher named Pete Mandik who specializes in consciousness. He suggests what sounds like the next logical step toward understanding what these findings mean in terms of the consciousness of vegetative patients: See if anesthetized patients have similar responses. If the brains of anesthetized patients respond in the same way this vegetative woman's brain responded, Mandik says, that brain activity doesn't = consciousness. But if this woman responds in ways anesthetized patients don't, well ... that's a different story.

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