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Vegetative Patients Can Still Learn

ScuttleMonkey posted about 5 years ago | from the better-than-some-biz-folks-i-have-known dept.

Medicine 159

enigma48 writes to mention that a collaborative study between the Universities of Buenos Aires and Cambridge have demonstrated that individuals in a vegetative state can still learn and demonstrate at least a partial consciousness. Their findings are reported in a recent online edition of Nature Neuroscience. "It is the first time that scientists have tested whether patients in vegetative and minimally conscious states can learn. By establishing that they can, it is believed that this simple test will enable practitioners to assess the patient's consciousness without the need of imaging. The abstract is also available in the advance issue of Nature."

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fMRI Strikes Again (2, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 5 years ago | (#29493775)

You might take this with a grain of salt as this Scientific American [scientificamerican.com] article points out it relies on fMRI (with the researcher also expressing caution). The same sort of scans were used to recently show that dead salmon think [slashdot.org] and also was called into question before that [slashdot.org] . From what I understand, there's a potentially huge problem with the statistical correlation done on the data to reach the images and conclusion (basically you are able to decide how much of a result you get). Given these sequential very controversial findings, I think it's time to push for research on these tools and research processes to ensure they are robust and reporting correct findings.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (5, Informative)

gameweld (215362) | about 5 years ago | (#29493917)

Wrong. A earlier study in 2006 used fMRI. This study used a simple classical conditioning test where they played a tune before blowing in the patients eyelid.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29495777)

Yes, and you can demonstrate classical conditioning in insects (Watanabe H, Mizunami M, 2007 Pavlov's Cockroach: Classical Conditioning of Salivation in an Insect. PLoS ONE 2(6): e529. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0000529). Does that mean insects have consciousness?

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (5, Interesting)

poetmatt (793785) | about 5 years ago | (#29493953)

I agree with this, not to mention they are talking about things that are borderline instinctual. That is not the same as "learning" in the sense of the phrase. Reminds me of that fatal birth defect where a kid is born without the top of their skull so it doesn't form all of the brain, but enough for them to cry, smile, etc and causes people serious emotional stress because it appears to be cognition when it's not.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (4, Insightful)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | about 5 years ago | (#29494049)

Reminds me of that fatal birth defect where a kid is born without the top of their skull so it doesn't form all of the brain, but enough for them to cry, smile, etc and causes people serious emotional stress because it appears to be cognition when it's not.
 
It breaks my heart just thinking about being in that situation. To love someone so much and for you to find out that they can't love you back... and what you thought were the most special moments of your life were all a lie.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (4, Funny)

Anonymusing (1450747) | about 5 years ago | (#29494197)

It breaks my heart just thinking about being in that situation. To love someone so much and for you to find out that they can't love you back... and what you thought were the most special moments of your life were all a lie.

Isn't that a country music song?

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (4, Funny)

Mikkeles (698461) | about 5 years ago | (#29494689)

No, the pickup still works and the dog didn't die.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (4, Funny)

dr_dank (472072) | about 5 years ago | (#29494277)

To love someone so much and for you to find out that they can't love you back... and what you thought were the most special moments of your life were all a lie.

Lesson learned: never take a RealDoll to the prom.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (3, Funny)

H0p313ss (811249) | about 5 years ago | (#29494385)

... and what you thought were the most special moments of your life were all a lie.

Thanks... and I was having such a great Monday too...

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (2, Insightful)

poetmatt (793785) | about 5 years ago | (#29494397)

Well, I can understand the emotional distress, but the value of a birth is what people choose to put into it, same as abortion.

The can't love back part, well, many people have had relationships like that. I mean Zooey Deschanel and Jennifer Love Hewitt still don't respond to my love letters and the requests for them to bear my children.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (1)

Coren22 (1625475) | about 5 years ago | (#29495049)

They ignore you too? I'm sorry, I can't even get an acknowledgment from them.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (5, Funny)

jafiwam (310805) | about 5 years ago | (#29494401)

<blockquote>
It breaks my heart just thinking about being in that situation. To love someone so much and for you to find out that they can't love you back... and what you thought were the most special moments of your life were all a lie.</blockquote>

Never been married before have you?

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (1)

killmenow (184444) | about 5 years ago | (#29495325)

Never been married before have you?

Uhh..this is slashdot. He's never even had a girlfriend.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (2, Insightful)

jollyreaper (513215) | about 5 years ago | (#29494487)

It breaks my heart just thinking about being in that situation. To love someone so much and for you to find out that they can't love you back... and what you thought were the most special moments of your life were all a lie.

Happens all the time. At least someone who's missing a brain has an excuse for it.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (1)

elrous0 (869638) | about 5 years ago | (#29494717)

Great. Thanks for the pick-me-up, Debbie Downer!

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29494909)

Was it all a lie though? Sometimes I think it's best to just go with the blue pill, so to speak. If it made you happy does it really matter how you arrived at that state?

I totally see what you are saying, but in situations like these I think ignorance might be bliss.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (2, Funny)

greyline (1052440) | about 5 years ago | (#29495253)

Viagra is what got us into this mess!

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29495283)

I was trying to quote The Matrix. Didn't even know Viagra comes in blue pills! /nudge nudge ;)

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29495001)

the most special moments of your life

Don't get too sentimental over something that is far more mundane than you make it out to be. Infants do not experience love in the same way adults do. The love you feel coming back from your child is mostly just your own projection on to what the child is actually doing...which itself is mostly just instinct and classical conditioning.

Besides, you only love the child because you believe it to be yours. If someone swaps your infant with someone else's infant at the hospital, you wouldn't even know. And nothing special about that stranger would earn your love. You would instantly, and automatically, love that child just because you think it is genetically derived from you (even though it is not).

Women absolutely hate it when I say stuff like this, which is why I generally keep quiet about it (and post anonymously about it). It is popular to sanctify this automatic (instinctual) chemical (mostly dopamine and vasopressin) process by dressing it up with all the poetry we associate with free-willed and altruistic love that adults form with one another on their mutual merits.

It's a crock. It keeps the species going, which is valuable enough in and of itself, but it isn't the profound nonsense we make it out to be.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (2, Insightful)

tibman (623933) | about 5 years ago | (#29496009)

You can love a child that you know for a fact isn't yours. There is a choice involved. Babies found in dumpsters probably prove that.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29496095)

It breaks my heart just thinking about being in that situation. To love someone so much and for you to find out that they can't love you back... and what you thought were the most special moments of your life were all a lie.

Didn't I tell you to stay away from my WIFE?

o-O

Kind of a contradiction? (1)

Lucas123 (935744) | about 5 years ago | (#29494811)

If you're in a vegetative state, doesn't that mean you really can't learn -- or do anything else except keep your heart pumping and your lungs breathing?

Re:Kind of a contradiction? (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about 5 years ago | (#29495643)

Well, that's kind of the entire point of the debate, isn't it?

*Some* doctors think that a vegetative state is more like a stroke- killing a portion of the brain, so you need to retrain what is left to bring the person back.

*Other* doctors think it's more like brain death or a coma- and no conditioning is possible.

This article is more proof of the first, denying the second.

M+ (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29495157)

Yes, and along that line of thinking... unless all neurons are dead, you should never be surprised that some conditioning is still going on. Neurons adjust their levels, we know that. The interesting question is, is enough still going on in there to for it to be a person? If so, could we still make contact or even wake them up? As it is, all we've seen is conditioning that is slightly less complex than the M+ key on my pocket calculator.

Re:M+ (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about 5 years ago | (#29495663)

A Person's a Person, no Matter How Small.
-Dr. E. Horton.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29495593)

The scientific term "learning" is different than the layperson phrase. It is used the same for rats and a maze. For example, the mouse takes the same left turn that worked last time to get the cheese. That's all this really is.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29493993)

now why is it that if you question mainstream cosmology because you've heard of alternatives like the electric universe theory (and happen to notice that the people who scream the most that EU theory is bullshit are also the people who have never seriously studied it and are least familiar with it), you get responses like "who are you to question all of these established scientists" and other thinly veiled appeals to authority, as though the mainstream consensus was never wrong in the past, as though a wrong consensus has never gone on for years before finally being falsified, and other false notions that even a cursory reading about the history of science would quickly eliminate. yet, when you question a medical finding for an equally good reason (a reason to believe that the methodology is flawed, or that assumptions are clouding our observations) you're Informative. i wish you guys would make up your minds and be consistent instead of having different opinions for different subjects. either you see why it's good and healthy to question what is presented no matter who it comes from or you are another sycophant. just pick a consistent position please.

ah well, you fucks might as well know one thing. the more you dismiss what you are obviously not very familiar with, the more you froth at the mouth for no apparent reason at the mere mention of a topic like the electric universe during an otherwise calm and rational discussion, the more you use logical fallacies like the appeal to authority, the more you try so hard to marginalize something because you find it inconvenient and just wish it would go away, or because it threatens what you believe, the more you do these things the more certain I am that the object of your discomfort is a step closer to the truth of the matter and worthy of careful investigation. so, in a way, I should thank you, even if trying to discuss these matters with you is much more tedious and annoying than it should be.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29494337)

Probably because your kooky theory does nothing to explain or predict dark matter or the cosmic microwave background and lacks any evidence whatsoever (where are all these gamma rays?) and can be dismissed as bullshit, whereas the mainstream cosmological theories are gathering more evidence every year. On the other hand, if you're talking about German psychedelic trance groups, then I'm 100 percent behind you.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29495217)

Probably because your kooky theory does nothing to explain or predict dark matter or the cosmic microwave background

You're proving my point that the people who are so quick to call the EU bullshit are also not very familiar with it. When I explain why those two are completely false, I want you to be aware of your own hypocrisy and how much you shame yourself by speaking ill of what you know nothing about. If I were you, I'd have done that anonymously too. If you are like almost everyone else who does this, then you will ignore the fact that I have corrected you and will pretend that you didn't see my post. So be it. You'll see it, and I'll know that you saw it, and with that I am satisfied.

First of all, one of the major points of EU theory is that IT DOES NOT NEED DARK MATTER AT ALL. The difference between EU theory and mainstream theory is that mainstream theory is focused to the point of obsession on gravity and gravitational effects. Now, any physicist or electrical engineer can tell you that gravity is a very weak force, compared to any other. The electric force and electrical attraction/repulsion are many, many orders of magnitude more powerful than gravity. Also, gravity follows the inverse-square law, so it diminishes with the square of the distance - if you double your distance from a gravitational body, the gravity from it that you experience is four times less. Electricity, on the other hand, diminishes linearly - if you double your distance from an electric field, the electric field you experience is half. It's a much more powerful force and one that is more powerful over distances. Thus, the visible matter in the universe that we can see, the regular ordinary non-dark matter, is more than enough to account for what we see in space, with no "extra" source of gravity (dark matter) needed. I hope that now you can see why it's silly to say "but EU doesn't explain or predict dark matter!" and why that instantly told me that you don't have the first clue of what you're talking about. To an EU scientist, dark matter is a "fudge factor" like Ptolomy's epicycles, it was put there only because an equation did not work without it, it has never once been observed or created in a lab, and its presence in a mathematical equation does not give it physical reality. Study Ptolomy's epicycles and you will see how generations of otherwise good scientists can believe in the physical reality of a mathematical falsehood only because their equations couldn't work without that mathematical falsehood.

For the cosmic microwave background, the EU theory notes that the locations "hot spots" in data like that produed by COBE and WMAP correlate with known locations of filimentary structures of hydrogen. Those filiments are known as Birkeland currents and in fact we can observe the magnetism they produce, either in space at huge scales or in a lab at small scales. What any electrical engineer can tell you is that you need an electric current to account for those magnetic fields. An electric current on that scale is more than capable of producing microwave radiation and there are many, many such currents throughout interstellar space. This also explains why the WMAP data was a "smoother" distribution than was expected, a finding that I believe is what led to the ad-hoc after-the-fact invention of inflation theory. This of course is bad science; a good theory predicts observations in advance, a terrible and rather unscientific theory fails to predict and when the failure is noted, the theory is revised and forced to fit the observation instead of being discarded and replaced. If you don't understand that, I'd suggest studying the works of a scientist named Karl Popper and what he had to say about falsifiability.

Your first little objection was so trivial to explain that a layman like me has no problem doing so. For the second, you may be interested in this link [holoscience.com] , which I have mostly summarized for you. You may also want to read other articles here [holoscience.com] and here [thunderbolts.info] , at least if you want to actually read what the EU people are claiming before you decide to comment on them. Your choice.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29495051)

Has anyone ever been as far to even decide how babby was formed? EARTH HAS 4 CORNER SIMULTANEOUS 4-DAY TIME CUBE IN ONLY 24 HOUR ROTATION. 4 Corner TIME, CUBES EARTH.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (1)

daveime (1253762) | about 5 years ago | (#29495559)

electric universe theory

Archimedes Plutonium, is that you and your theory, again ???

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (1)

Kratisto (1080113) | about 5 years ago | (#29494003)

Isn't it a bit too soon to be dismissing all fMRI data as dead fishery? What is the point of replication if not to filter out noise and lurking variables? Even if the statistical processes that produce the image from the raw data are flawed, could they not be detected after the fact?

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (3, Informative)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about 5 years ago | (#29494051)

FTFA:

This study was done as a collaborative effort between the University of Buenos Aires (Argentina), the University of Cambridge (UK) and the Institute of Cognitive Neurology (Argentina). By using classical Pavlonian conditioning, the researchers played a tone immediately prior to blowing air into a patient's eye. After some time training, the patients would start to blink when the tone played but before the air puff to the eye.

Where in the description of the experiment involved do you find any mention of fMRI data?

In fact, I think you could mimic this experiment with a tuning fork and a turkey baster.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (1)

geminidomino (614729) | about 5 years ago | (#29494329)

In fact, I think you could mimic this experiment with a tuning fork and a turkey baster.

You kinky bastard.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (1)

daveime (1253762) | about 5 years ago | (#29495599)

The blinking was actually them transmitting in morse code "turn the bloody music down".

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (3, Informative)

sonnejw0 (1114901) | about 5 years ago | (#29494289)

Actually, I believe the report said it used an electrocardiogram to determine learned behaviour to an aversive eye-puff (meaning that the vegetative patient's sympathetic nervous system was being activated in anticipation of the aversive stimulus). Regardless, the fMRI data from the dead salmon actually indicates what you can get from an MR machine if you set your parameters incorrectly. There are lots of artifacts in an MRI, and the statistics of its output is very complex, but the dead-salmon article's conclusion was about proper parameters being used, not a blanket statement about reliability of MR.

The spinal cord itself is actually a smart cable and does its own processing and reflex computations, so the fact that these patients anticipated a negative stimulus is not in and of itself evidence of cognitive function. Having not read anything but the abstract, if the aversive stimulus was in fact an eye-puff, that is a strong indicator that the brainstem, cerebellum and parts of the cerebral cortex are intact and functioning. If it were a foot stimulus, that says little about the brain. The classic experiment of the hinter-years involving a cat with its brain removed except for the brain stem and spinal cord, and yet the cat possessed the autonomic reflexes required to walk on a treadmill when properly positioned, is evidence of this. However, the article probably goes in depth about how this is viable for fundamental brain function, as is indicated by the abstract.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (1)

wigaloo (897600) | about 5 years ago | (#29494605)

The dead-salmon study [slashdot.org] has been rejected for publication several times, so I wouldn't take it to discredit the fMRI technique in any way. Some research papers are just plain wrong, or written by the uninformed.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (2, Informative)

Protoslo (752870) | about 5 years ago | (#29494705)

Aside from the obvious objection that others have made (the dead fish paper was pointing out that some psych researchers use statistical analyses of dubious rigor, not that fMRI doesn't work!), there is an even more relevant fact. I just read this paper, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with fMRI. And if you had actually read the link that you included, you would realize that the SciAm article claims no such thing! That article indicates that other fMRI studies imply that the accepted criteria for distinguishing conciousness and vegetative states might be overly arbitrary. The SciAm author's point is that even someone who fails the test given in the paper in question might not be considerably less conscious than someone who does pass, and that a single criterion (conditioned response to audio tone/eye pressure) is overly limiting.

Indeed, you could make that objection based on the model's accuracy:

The model incorrectly classified 2 out of 11 individuals in the vegetative state and 4 out of 9 nonâ"vegetative state subjects, leaving the model with an accuracy of 72.7% (Ï2 = 3.61, P = 0.057).

The model was no better than a random choice for classifying the patients who were not in a vegetative state (they observed that learning was a poor differentiator of vegetative and minimally conscious states)...but luckily they are actually suggesting the test not for determine vegetative state diagnosis, but as a measure of improvement potential. The test had much better correlation with subsequent condition improvement in the subjects:

We performed a logistic regression to evaluate whether conditioned stimulus late anticipatory-baseline could differentiate between recovery and no recovery. Learning (conditioned stimulus late anticipatory-baseline, Ï2 = 5.02, P = 0.025) indicated, with an accuracy of 86%, whether a subject had shown signs of recovery or not.

In fact, it is clear from the appendix that there were no false negatives in that measure (i.e. no nonlearners improved); both of the misclassifications were learners who failed to improve. The point of the paper was not even to evaluate a specific test of learning, but rather to establish that learning ability is highly correlated with recovery potential.

Given the trend of sequential misinformed first posts, I think it's time to push for research on the moderation process, to ensure that slashdot moderators don't upmoderate based on the perceived confidence of the poster, independent of actual veracity.

Re:fMRI Strikes Again (1)

Toonol (1057698) | about 5 years ago | (#29494797)

A large grain of salt, also due to the shifty definitions. They use the term 'learn' in a way much different than most people understand the process. Just because a process causes a shift over time in the way a brain responds, doesn't mean the brain is learning. If that was the case, cutting chunks of brain tissue out with a knife could be called learning.

They've found that when learning, they can measure brain response in a certain way. That doesn't mean that the brain responding that way indicates learning. The road is wet when it rains, but a wet road doesn't mean it's raining. Since, however, they're studying the brain and using certain limited tools, they conveniently tailor their definitions of words like 'learning' and 'attention' to the certain gross physical phenomena that they can measure.

Nothing new here (0, Troll)

UncleWilly (1128141) | about 5 years ago | (#29493777)

Scientists have found that some teens in a vegetative and minimally conscious state, despite lacking the means of reporting awareness themselves, can learn and thereby demonstrate at least a partial consciousness. By using classical Pavlovian conditioning, the researchers played a tone immediately prior to shotgunning cannabis into a patient's open mouth. After some time training, the patients would start to inhale when the tone played but before the shotgun.

Vegetative (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29493799)

can soybeans learn too? what about cauliflower? shit, next thing ya know the average american will stop being such a naive idiot

It has to be said (3, Funny)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | about 5 years ago | (#29493835)

I learned alot from Veggie Tales. Correlation?

Re:It has to be said (4, Funny)

oneTheory (1194569) | about 5 years ago | (#29493965)

Yes, strong correlation that your comment is being posted by an insensitive clod!

Re:It has to be said (1)

stms (1132653) | about 5 years ago | (#29494679)

Don't be so insensitive toward insensitive clods.

Re:It has to be said (0, Flamebait)

Icegryphon (715550) | about 5 years ago | (#29494929)

Correlation does not Equal Causation.
Schiavo'd! LOL

au contraire (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29493861)

I think the editorial staff of slashdot proves otherwise.

Proof that... (1)

No-Cool-Nickname (1287972) | about 5 years ago | (#29493885)

I can still teach my users to power cycle their own damned computers.

Re:Proof that... (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 5 years ago | (#29494063)

I can still teach my users to power cycle their own damned computers.

You might take a hint from the researchers - they used Pavlovian conditioning [wikipedia.org] which, according to TFA, might be of help when considering a training program for your users [downonmyknees.com] . (Not necessarily SFW).

If you come up with a manual, or even a proposal for the program, maybe you can let us know. Come to think, this might be a good 'Ask Slashdot'.

I have known this for a long time (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29493893)

I have been in many a long lecture that has put me in a vegetative state.

I managed to graduate, so I must have leaned something.

Re:I have known this for a long time (1)

Arthur Grumbine (1086397) | about 5 years ago | (#29495193)

so I must have leaned something.

[Citation Required]

Re:I have known this for a long time (1)

david_thornley (598059) | about 5 years ago | (#29496177)

I take it the lectures were in your English classes.

Vegetative Patients Can Still Learn (1)

somethingwicked (260651) | about 5 years ago | (#29493929)

Vegetative Patients Can Still Learn

Well, let's be honest, no one like to admit this and we "support" them for their right to make their own decisions. But, most of us consider it a real lack of judgment, and making that conscious decision probably says a lot about their overall intelligence.

But, I have never felt that someone was beyond hope just because they will only eat vegetables!

{devilish grin}

Humans Have Three Brains (-1)

curmudgeon99 (1040054) | about 5 years ago | (#29494011)

This comes as no surprise, given that any human being has three brains in action:
  • The Reptilian brain, which we share with the frogs. If ever somebody has brain damage and is seen to move their limbs in a jerky manner, it's because control has shifted from the NeoCortex to the reptilian brain.
  • The Limbic brain, which handles emotions.
  • The NeoCortex, which allows us to think. Although the reptilian brain had control of the muscles, the NeoCortex takes over.

So, given the amount of brainpower, it's not surprising...

I have a fourth brain, you insensitive clod! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29494183)

I think with my penis all the time.

Re:Humans Have Three Brains (5, Informative)

sonnejw0 (1114901) | about 5 years ago | (#29494481)

Holy cow, where did you learn that stuff? From Paul MacLean? None of that reflects anywhere near current neurobiological evidence, let alone terminology! And I think the Neo-Cortex must only exist inside the Matrix, most everyone that's not a loon from the 80s calls it the cerebral cortex, or simply cortex.

The cortex is actually responsible for muscle control and movement patterning, disinhibited in the basal ganglia, through sensory proprioception from the cerebellum. It's all nicely integrated. The cortex has nothing to do with cognition. Although it does store memory I would not consider memory to be the fundamental element of cognition.

At any rate, you are correct in the idea that there is not one core region of processing. For instance, the spinal cord itself is actually a smart cable and does its own processing and reflex computations, so the fact that these patients anticipated a negative stimulus is not in and of itself evidence of cognitive function. Having not read anything but the abstract, if the aversive stimulus was in fact an eye-puff, that is a strong indicator that the brainstem, cerebellum and parts of the cerebral cortex are intact and functioning. If it were a foot stimulus, that says little about the brain. The classic experiment of the hinter-years involving a cat with its brain removed except for the brain stem and spinal cord, and yet the cat possessed the autonomic reflexes required to walk on a treadmill when properly positioned, is evidence of this. However, the article probably goes in depth about how this is viable for fundamental brain function, as is indicated by the abstract.

So there is hope... (3, Funny)

CRiMSON (3495) | about 5 years ago | (#29494015)

for the editors of /.

Wait, (1)

TheBilgeRat (1629569) | about 5 years ago | (#29494017)

What? I thought this was the Brian Eno thread

Good! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29494039)

Things they can learn to obey: "Lie down", "Stay", "Quiet".

Prepare for the zombie onslaught! (3, Funny)

MartinSchou (1360093) | about 5 years ago | (#29494091)

We've had stories of Zombie Salmon [slashdot.org] , rats that walk despite broken spines [slashdot.org] and now we're told that those with no brain activity can learn?!?

Granted, that could be both politicians and zombies, but I'm preparing for the worst: Zombie Politicians. Don't believe me? This one was just a prototype! [wikipedia.org] . They're amongst us, they cannot think, they cannot be stopped, they're learning AND THEY'RE RUNNING THE COUNTRY!

The lunatics were right! We ARE losing the country. Zombie Jesus save us all!

Re:Prepare for the zombie onslaught! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29494475)

The lunatics were right!

I think you have that reversed.

Re:Prepare for the zombie onslaught! (1)

R2.0 (532027) | about 5 years ago | (#29494491)

Big deal - we know that SOB's really dead. This one's still alive! Well, if you can call it living.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Byrd [wikipedia.org]

Re:Prepare for the zombie onslaught! (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | about 5 years ago | (#29494551)

"They're amongst us, they cannot think, they cannot be stopped, they're learning AND THEY'RE RUNNING THE COUNTRY!"

You had me until "they're learning"

Is it worth it? (3, Insightful)

vehicle tracking (1357065) | about 5 years ago | (#29494095)

My guess is that we will spend millions of dollars studying this. I really don't understand why someone would want to be kept alive for years because they may learn something. I can only imagine they will learn how it sucks to be kept alive by machines. How do we know they are not experiencing a lot of pain?

Re:Is it worth it? (4, Insightful)

sonnejw0 (1114901) | about 5 years ago | (#29494501)

Your instincts about the issue are right on. These learning processes for aversive stimuli can actually only be used to judge which regions of the brain are intact and thus make a diagnosis about a possible recovery. It's a quality issue, and these kinds of examination procedures being developed in this article will help loved ones make judgment calls.

Re:Is it worth it? (1)

R2.0 (532027) | about 5 years ago | (#29494757)

"I really don't understand why someone would want to be kept alive for years because their parents just won't give up."

People in vegetative sates don't "want" anything, at least not in terms familiar to us.

Re:Is it worth it? (1)

izomiac (815208) | about 5 years ago | (#29494867)

It also seems borderline reckless to do this kind of research. Obviously, the family of someone in a vegetative state would cling to any hope that their loved one might recover. Telling them that their loved one can learn will make their decision about continuing life support all the more difficult. I seriously doubt many physicians would follow up with "which puts them at the mental capacity of a gnat", even though a layman's concept of "learning" would make them assume a much higher level of intelligence. All-together a pointless observation IMHO, albeit one that can cause a lot of unnecessary pain for families.

Re:Is it worth it? (-1, Troll)

SnarfQuest (469614) | about 5 years ago | (#29495185)

Don't worry, Brock'o bamma has a plan for them. They'll just take a pain killer. Why waste money on such useless people?

Re:Is it worth it? (1)

SoupIsGoodFood_42 (521389) | about 5 years ago | (#29495247)

How do we know they are not experiencing a lot of pain?

And how do we know they aren't feeling perfectly content?

Re:Is it worth it? (1)

PitaBred (632671) | about 5 years ago | (#29495803)

If it could be used some something medically interesting, I'd have no problem with my body being kept alive by machines after I die. Better than tossing me in a fire and spreading the ashes... at least someone will learn something from it.

what ? (1)

middlemen (765373) | about 5 years ago | (#29494181)

What are "vegetative patents" ?

Re:what ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29494307)

Ah, another victim of poor spelling.
type in what you have in quotes into google
Google will correctly suggest something (Did you mean: ...) close to your poor spelling.

vegetative patents (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 5 years ago | (#29495923)

What are "vegetative patents" ?

I suspect those are the types that are filed before the invention is actually complete (not even necessarily in regards to the invention ever being completed) - and they can indeed earn quite a bit.

It's not about the science at some point. (2, Interesting)

SOdhner (1619761) | about 5 years ago | (#29494325)

My wife is a teacher in a classroom of severely disabled kids. She's had a few that some would call 'vegitative' despite having some awareness of their surroundings.

This study probably won't change anything, because most people decide what does and doesn't count as 'alive' on a gut level. You'll even find people way at the ends of the bell curve, saying relatively high-functioning people should be put to sleep or insisting that someone whose brain has been removed entirely is still alive somewhere "in there".

Personally, I lean to the "still alive" end of things - possibly further than logic anc science would support.

Re:It's not about the science at some point. (1)

R2.0 (532027) | about 5 years ago | (#29495029)

I subscribe to the test the Catholic Church uses for end-of-life issues, which isn't based on physiology but capability. They distinguish between ordinary and extraordinary means for extending life. Ordinary is the basics - food, shelter, whatever you'd do for a newborn or such. Extraordinary means is anything beyond that - artificial respiration, experimental treatments, etc.

I believe we are morally obligated to provide ordinary means of caring for someone, but not extraordinary. How it applies to people in a vegetative state is tough - is IV feeding or a stomach tube ordinary or extraordinary? I don't know, and hopefully I'll never need to find out.

Re:It's not about the science at some point. (1)

SOdhner (1619761) | about 5 years ago | (#29495891)

Well, stomach tubes are actually very common. Some of the kids in my wife's classroom are tube-fed, including some that are by no means vegitative.

The other issue - and this could just be because you didn't want to go into a more detailed definition here - is that by your definition of 'extraordinary' a huge percentage of us will fit into that at some point.

You are probably discounting anything short-term but the definition of short-term needs to be clarified in that case and you are still left with the fact that the *expected* length and *actual* length are often different.

Whatever system you use there will be people that fit *technically* but that you still want to make an exception for. It's a big ugly mess.

Frist (4, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | about 5 years ago | (#29494361)

More likely than not, ppl like Frist will claim that this is proof of why he was right about Schiavo.

Re:Frist (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29495189)

Obligatory "Frist Post", eh?

Re:Frist (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29495259)

Whut? A Frist post that's not a frist psot?

My brain asplode.

Re:Frist (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29496209)

I'm confused, why doesn't your post say "Psot!"

of course (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29494371)

This is how Fox news viewers progressed from "SHOW ME THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE!!!" to "THEY'RE GONNA GIT ME WITH THEM THERE DEATH PANELS!!!"

Did anyone else read that as... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29494377)

... Vegetative *plants* can still learn ?

Re:Did anyone else read that as... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29495471)

Vegetables learn patience Patient learners vegetate Learn Vegetables patients

Alternative implications (1)

entrice (1422613) | about 5 years ago | (#29494381)

Anyone else seeing this somehow being dragged into a few debates on abortion(mental capactity of fetuses etc.).

This is scary (4, Interesting)

TechnologyResource (1638031) | about 5 years ago | (#29494429)

For the fun of it, I googled "vegetable state" and here's what I found: "The research suggests that some of these patients may be misdiagnosed as being unconscious, when, in fact, they are aware of their surroundings but trapped in their immobile bodies." Here's the link: http://www.mindhacks.com/blog/2007/10/breaking_through_to_.html [mindhacks.com]

Fuck, don't let PETA know (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | about 5 years ago | (#29494447)

Won't even be able to eat a fucking carrot without these yobs throwing paint on me.

Two words: High school (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about 5 years ago | (#29494495)

Sure, we got high during breaks, but it doesn't mean we didn't learn anything. We displayed aversive avoidance behavior whenever a hot coal would fall on our fingers. Clear evidence of neural activity.

What about the non-vegetables... (4, Funny)

mayko (1630637) | about 5 years ago | (#29494525)

Ok, so the vegetative people can learn...

That doesn't solve our biggest problem. What do we do with all the none vegetative people who cannot learn? You know... those people who think "intellegent design" is biology, and can drive a car, own a gun, and vote.

Re:What about the non-vegetables... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29495115)

That's easy, send them all emails claiming to be a Nigerian Prince and that if they want to obtain the million dollar inheritance they have to fly to an island somewhere in the southern Pacific ocean. Once they are all rounded up you know what to do... nuke them from orbit is the only way to be sure.

Re:What about the non-vegetables... (1)

electricprof (1410233) | about 5 years ago | (#29495561)

I often find myself to be in a persistent chocolate state ... but never vegetables.

Mandatory lawyer joke (5, Funny)

cptdondo (59460) | about 5 years ago | (#29494735)

An attorney, cross-examining the local coroner, queried, "Before you signed the death certificate had you taken the man's pulse?"

"No," the coroner replied.

"Well, then, did you listen for a heart beat?"

The coroner answered, "No."

"Did you check for respiration? Breathing?", asked the attorney.

Again the coroner replied, "No."

"Ah," the attorney said, "So when you signed the death certificate you had not taken any steps to make sure the man was dead, had you?"

The coroner rolled his eyes, and shot back "Counselor, at the time I signed the death certificate the man's brain was sitting in a jar on my desk. But I can see your point. For all I know he could be out there practicing law somewhere."

control group.. (3, Funny)

mevets (322601) | about 5 years ago | (#29494971)

What did they use for the control group in the study? Dead fish heads? C-level executives? Former presidents?

Re:control group.. (1)

brre (596949) | about 5 years ago | (#29495883)

Uh, it's a within subjects design. Each subject was his own control.

Cognizant Thought, A True Gift... (2, Interesting)

Xin Jing (1587107) | about 5 years ago | (#29495037)

I'm not doubting or disqualifying other states of mind, but let's hear a round of cheer for the one that most people percieve - wakeful thought and cognizant awareness; the idea of self and the myriad of directions it takes us in.

Chances are, you've pondered the notion at one time or another, 'I wonder if anyone else is thinking this right now', or 'I wonder how many other people have thought what I'm thinking'. What a supreme notion, to be able to have recursive thoughts where we can examine our own thoughts and compare them to the thoughts of others. Suddenly we're not thinking about the object anymore, we're thinking about thinking about the object and pondering if others have done the same thing.

Hurray for the executive control system of the mind!

The dead also still learn (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29495097)

And quiet effectively as well. I have never seen one repeat the mistake that killed him.

Legal ramifications (2, Insightful)

electricprof (1410233) | about 5 years ago | (#29495609)

Of course the Schiavo case is the first to come to mind, but doesn't it seem that the term "persistent vegetative state" is becoming less well defined? It seems that survivors making end of life decisions for loved ones have to deal with very murky information.

When they say vegative patients (1)

pizzach (1011925) | about 5 years ago | (#29495773)

they don't happen to mean the these kind of patients [searchviews.com] learning? It sounds dangerous.

That's kind of insensitive, don't you think? (1)

grasshoppa (657393) | about 5 years ago | (#29495779)

We prefer to call them "CEOs". And we know they can still learn once promoted, we constantly get idiotic requests from them which we all know comes from a golf buddy or vendor.

That would explain... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29495919)

how they keep on voting for Republicans....

The Reflex (1, Insightful)

scorp1us (235526) | about 5 years ago | (#29496093)

This isn't cognition, but rather reflexive. The brain is an organic computer and it is supreme at pattern recognition. This would be only a tad higher than keeping the heart beating and other involuntary actions. Just because it is conditioned doesn't mean there is precognition or reasoning.

I would tastelessly posit that you could program someone (or multiple someones) to preform a rudimentary calculation. If true, then we would have actual wet-ware to program. The question is then, what is the longest program you could condition someone into? We might be able to beat the NP-complete barrier with wetware.
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