Is There Awareness Behind Vegetative States? – Facts So Romantic

Imagine that a loved one, let’s say your brother, has suffered a serious brain injury. After languishing in a coma, he finally “emerges”—that is, he cycles between sleep and wakefulness, yanks his hand away when it’s pricked, is startled by loud noises, and so on. But it’s not clear that he’s ever truly awake; his eyes are open, but they rove around aimlessly. He can’t communicate or follow instructions, even simple ones like “Squeeze my hand” or “Blink if you can hear me.” Does your brother still inhabit his body?

Our notion of what it means to retain a self may boil down to Descartes’ pithy “I think, therefore I am.” Selfhood can withstand many assaults: paralysis, memory impairment, blindness, even loss of language. But the loss of awareness—the ability to be conscious of our experiences and to reflect on them—seems to cut away at something truly fundamental.

agsandrew

A substantial number of people who come out of a coma remain, sometimes for decades, in a persistent vegetative state. These patients show no overt evidence of being conscious of their surroundings, of who they are, or what they perceive or feel. They appear to be reduced to a bundle…

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