Monday, November 23, 2009

Neuroscience: Man was conscious 23 years ... but who except him knew?

At the Mail Online, Allan Hall reports (November 23, 2009) on the case of a man who was conscious for 23 years, but no one knew because he was paralyzed.

A car crash victim has spoken of the horror he endured for 23 years after he was misdiagnosed as being in a coma when he was conscious the whole time.
Rom Houben, trapped in his paralysed body after a car crash, described his real-life nightmare as he screamed to doctors that he could hear them - but could make no sound.

'I screamed, but there was nothing to hear.

Read more here.

It sounds like a horror film, and he could maybe get rich on the film rights.

Seriously, I think doctors should be much more careful with the "persistent vegetative state" (PVS) diagnoses than they sometimes are - if consequences follow. Some people - like Rom Houben, above - can be conscious without being mobile. We aren't even sure what consciousness is , after all, so why be definitive about who has it?

Here are some more articles about persistent vegetative state:

Is the patient vegetative or minimally conscious?

Neuroscience: Can locked-in sufferers tweet, using brain signals alone?

Another "human vegetable" turns out to be wired for thought

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Sociology: Should you add Satan to your Board of Directors?

Sociology: Should you add Satan to your Board of Directors?

Belief in hell spurs economic growth?

In "Satan, the great motivator: The curious economic effects of religion," Michael Fitzgerald
(Boston Globe, November 15, 2009), advises,
A pair of Harvard researchers recently examined 40 years of data from dozens of countries, trying to sort out the economic impact of religious beliefs or practices. They found that religion has a measurable effect on developing economies - and the most powerful influence relates to how strongly people believe in hell.
Of course, these researchers either have it all wrong or else they are gravely misreported.

Belief in hell is a function of the belief that what we do matters and that the death of the body does not end everything for us. On a mundane level, if what we do matters, we can improve our economic lot by focusing on useful actions rather than useless or harmful ones. Of course, when it comes to matters of eternity, well ... consult whatever responsible religious authorities you think can help you.

We also learn,
Barro and McCleary, for their part, think religion and policy are difficult to mix. McCleary says the lesson of their results isn't that governments should boost religion, but simply that they should recognize it has some value, and avoid regulating it too heavily.
Well, government had - in my view - better avoid regulating religion "too heavily" (?!). Recent Canadian experience suggests that government should get out of the area entirely. "Human rights" commissions here have caused nothing but trouble in recent years when they meddle in matters of eternity, not time. But good citizens are now fighting back and slowly forcing the government back to its proper - and much needed - sphere of influence.

Some of us - even though we are not Americans - sometimes Google the US First Amendment, for comfort:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
As one of the Canadian free speech journalists, (of whom there are now many, glad to say), I am grateful for the good citizens worldwide who wish us well in dealing with the current "social engineering of religion" menace* - and we will help you too, when you are attacked.

* A big problem has been attacks on the right of Christian churches to teach their members that the gay lifestyle is not acceptable for their members of good faith. Just so you know, the big gay rights group, Egale, is not backing this agenda. The people who launch persecutions tend to be disgruntled individuals. Canada has freedom of religion. People who do not agree with their denomination's position are free to join a denomination that thinks otherwise, and there are several here.

If you are interested in this problem, see Shakedown or Lights Out or Tyranny of Nice.


Neuroscience and popular culture: Reasons not to buy "neuronovels" for people for Christmas

In the age of neuro-everything, I am hardly surprised to hear about the neuronovel. Jonah Lehrer at Frontal Cortex reports,
The last dozen years or so have seen the emergence of a new strain within the Anglo-American novel. What has been variously referred to as the novel of consciousness or the psychological or confessional novel-the novel, at any rate, about the workings of a mind-has transformed itself into the neurological novel, wherein the mind becomes the brain. ince 1997, readers have encountered, in rough chronological order, Ian McEwan's Enduring Love (de Clérambault's syndrome, complete with an appended case history by a fictional "presiding psychiatrist" and a useful bibliography), Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn (Tourette's syndrome), Mark Haddon's Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (autism), Richard Powers's The Echomaker (facial agnosia, Capgras syndrome), McEwan again with Saturday (Huntington's disease, as diagnosed by the neurosurgeon protagonist), Atmospheric Disturbances (Capgras syndrome again) by a medical school graduate, Rivka Galchen, and John Wray's Lowboy (paranoid schizophrenia). And these are just a selection of recently published titles in "literary fiction." There are also many recent genre novels, mostly thrillers, of amnesia, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorder.
Lehrer is appropriately skeptical, though at the end of his piece, he almost bows down to materialism - as he must, I suppose. It is very difficult for anyone with a stake in this present darkness to avoid at least appearing to believe that darkness is light.

My own view: Once we put -ogical or -ology in our explanation of a novel ... watch out! We are already wandering off the main highway of narrative. "Once upon a time" is actually much better.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

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