Michael Daniel 9-11-2006 NYT – “Mental Activity Seen in Brain Gravely Injured” pg.

A1, A8, 9-8-2006 Thesis: ‘All persons in an unresponsive vegetative state can not respond to outside stimuli’ is not a true statement. Therefore, it is not a justified true belief. Doctors have previously held a justified belief that all persons in an unresponsive vegetative state could not respond to outside stimuli. According to new brain imaging studies this belief turned out to be untrue with at least one patient, thereby proving the belief to be false. The study involved a woman who had suffered brain trauma in a car accident. She was diagnosed as being in an unresponsive vegetative state. Researchers at the Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, England scanned the patient’s brain while subjecting her to various stimuli. They used a technique called functional M.R.I. The woman’s brain responded in such a way that it was indistinguishable from a healthy brain. The stimulus that she was presented with were commands and ambiguous sentences such as, “The creak came from a beam in the ceiling.” In a more recent test, taken more than 11 months after her accident, the woman showed signs of recovery. With her eyes she could track objects and fixate on them for more than 5 seconds. These more recent tests caused her diagnosis to be changed from ‘unresponsive vegetative’ to ‘minimally conscious’. Experts warned that we should not make too much of a single case. In order to gain more knowledge the scientists involved in the study will conduct more broad studies involving larger numbers of conscious and unconscious people. They will see if this line

of inquiry could lead to a way to see which patients have a better chance of recovering from a vegetative state. Normally, about half of all patients who enter a vegetative state ever recover any kind of consciousness in the first year. After the first year the chances for recovery diminish greatly. A study from 1994 surveyed 700 vegetative patients who had been vegetative and unresponsive for more than 2 years. In that study not a single one of them showed any signs of recovery. This article directly relates to epistemology because it is an illustration of how sometimes a justified belief is not true. When a justified belief is not true it is not knowledge. When something that was previously considered knowledge is exposed as being dubitable it is usually replaced with a greater understanding of the subject matter. Now that we know that at least one person in an unresponsive vegetative state can respond to outside stimuli we can begin the research to find out how common this kind of thing is. The new knowledge gained from this test is that, ‘many people in unresponsive vegetative states can not respond to stimuli’. I used the word ‘many’ because it is appropriately ambiguous in relation to the amount of information that we have access to. We don’t know if the word ‘most’ or ‘some’ should be used. Hopefully further testing will clear that up.