This BBC report on scientists communicating with brain damaged patients directly via the brain is absolutely astonishing. Apparently the boffins can now recognise patterns of thoughts and treat them as answers to questions using an MRI brain scanner. Stick a patient who is apparently in a vegetative state (i.e. completely non responsive) into a scanner, and you can ask them questions and receive answers based on what they’re thinking about.
Watch the video, it’s mind-blowing. It reminds me of that amazing film where those patients who were severely non-communicative were given some concoction and started to come alive again. Freaky stuff. More here from New Scientist.
Awareness was detected in three other patients previously diagnosed as being in a vegetative state. The study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that scans can detect signs of awareness in patients thought to be closed off from the world. Patients in a vegetative state are awake, not in a coma, but have no awareness because of severe brain damage.