Intentional Action and the Post-Coma Patient

Topoi 33 (1):23-31 (2014)
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Abstract

Detecting conscious awareness in a patient emerging from a coma state is problematic, because our standard attributions of conscious awareness rely on interpreting bodily movement as intentional action. Where there is an absence of intentional bodily action, as in the vegetative state, can we reliably assume that there is an absence of conscious awareness? Recent neuroimaging work suggests that we can attribute conscious awareness to some patients in a vegetative state by interpreting their brain activity as intentional mental action. I suggest that this change of focus, from the interpretation of motor behaviour as intentional bodily action to the interpretation of neural activity as intentional mental action, raises philosophical issues that affect the interpretation of the neuroimaging data

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Zoe Drayson
University of California, Davis