consciousness 713 /914

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Vegetative states, language and consciousness

Owen, A. M., Coleman, M. R., Boly, M., Davis, M. H., Laureys, S., & Pickard, J. D. (2006). Detecting awareness in the vegetative state. Science, 313, 1402. (download)

Also see the Science commentary (download) and news items available from Dr. Owens website. And some recent followup discussion, 9/07.

Also of interest is this brief report on somewhat of a recovery from coma after 19 years.

Laureys, Boly, & Maquet (2006) Tracking the recovery of consciousness from coma. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 116, 1823-6.

There is also the interesting book & film "The diving bell and butterfly" -- a more or less true story of a French magazine editor who suffered massive stroke preventing all movement save his left eye and maybe a slight tongue movement. He survived long enough to write the book by blinking his left eye-- a lot of blinks!

Recent (2011) use of EEG with similar procedures to the Owens paper above, indicates EEG can also detect conscious states "hidden" in vegetative states.

What is it?

A persistent vegetative state (commonly, but incorrectly, referred to as "brain-death") sometimes follows a coma. Individuals in such a state have lost their thinking abilities and awareness of their surroundings, but retain non-cognitive function and normal sleep patterns. Even though those in a persistent vegetative state lose their higher brain functions, other key functions such as breathing and circulation remain relatively intact. Spontaneous movements may occur, and the eyes may open in response to external stimuli. They may even occasionally grimace, cry, or laugh. Although individuals in a persistent vegetative state may appear somewhat normal, they do not speak and they are unable to respond to commands.
http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/coma/coma.htm

New York Times review of cases (Carey, B., 2005) . Discusses "minimally conscious state."

But -- what counts as a "response?" Or more relevantly, an intentional "response?"