The brain activity of people in comas or with major communication disorders (vegetative states) is turning out to be much more normal than previously believed. In other words, people with such problems may be in fact quite conscious, or at least in a "minimally conscious state". This great New York Times article describes the research which may be redefining what we think of as states of consciousness.
The article speculates what it might be like to be minimally conscious:
"You wake up every morning but feel as if you're under a deep anesthesia. Images enter your eyes, and sounds enter your ears, but most of them reverberate through your brain without triggering any awareness. From time to time, you join the outside world at the sight of a familiar face or at the words of a loved one. Memories and meaning emerge. But as soon as that face or those words disappear, you sink back into darkness. Perhaps you can't even tell you're sinking -- perhaps your awareness leaps from one isolated moment to the next."
All this leads me to a (common) question that I sometimes think about, and may blog more about:
We normally consider ourselves fully conscious during our waking hours. But is there a whole level of consciousness that we have never experienced yet?
In some sense, are most of us, if not all of us, not minimally conscious, but equally in a fog, much less conscious than our potential? Is there an "outside world" that is all around us that we rarely "join", or if we do glimpse that world (as in peak religious experiences, perhaps), do we inevitably "sink" back to our previous level of sub-consciousness? And does what we learn from those that have recovered from a minimally conscious state suggest methods of accessing this super-consciousness?
Maybe this is something to think about when you read this interesting article.
(via Boing Boing Blog)