SKerwin: March 2005 Archives

She's Dead, Jim?

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I find this fascinating.

These folks claim to know with 100% certainty that the woman is mentally dead, and they support this claim with EEGs showing that her cerebral cortex is no longer functioning. Unfortunately all they've really proved is that her cerebral cortex is no longer functioning.

Let's be honest: nobody understands the human brain. We associate functions with various brain structures, but we know that in the case of a severe injury different parts of the brain can adapt to maintain necessary functions. Blind people use the visual centers of their brains to help with their navigation, despite having no visual input. Test animals have been neurologically rewired such that they see with the section of their brain that normally handles sound. Individuals with massive trauma destroying large tracts of cerebral tissue continue to function normally. Again and again we see that brain functionality isn't set in stone, that the brain can adapt to injury by reallocating its structures to different functions.

Does the author of this diatribe know that Ms. Schiavo's remaining brain tissue has not cobbled together some semblance of a consciousness? No, she doesn't. She can't even properly define what a consciousness is or what sentience means, because if she could we'd all have heard of her. I'll admit that it's extremely unlikely, but there is - as far as we twenty-first century humans know - a chance that some part of the cognitive patterns making up Ms. Schiavo mind still exist in some form. Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan is seriously irresponsible in writing this article; to say what she says with any degree of authority would require technology and understanding that is simply not in modern man's possession.

That said: No, I'm not claiming that this is definitely (or even probably) the case; I've not met Ms. Schiavo, I have no medical background, and as someone totally uninvolved in the issue I feel I lack standing to hold a strong opinion either way. But Dr. Whelan is just as guilty of junk science as the those she attacks, and if there's one thing I can't stand it's a hypocrite.

History Is Funny

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Huh.

Apparently in my previous life, I was a boat.

Go figure.

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