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December 10, 2009

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Rom Houben might be locked i. But, there is no reason for us to think so. The brain scans don't indicate that.

The real 'evidence' of his consciousness is from 'facilitated communication' which appears to be wishful thinking (and/or fraud) on the part of those around Houben. Watch the videos of him 'typing'. Do you really think all the 'facilitator' is doing is facilitating? Or, is she typing with his finger?

It would be possible to check - by having him answer a series of questions that the 'facilitator' doesn't know the answer to. Someone not connected with the case would need to administer this check. I will believe this story when I'm convinced this check has been done. Not before.

Most likely he is in a vegetative state. The worst possibility is that he is locked in and wants to say something completely different from what his 'facilitator' types for him.

If I ever get in a vegetative state, please let me go. It won't matter to me people who are still there need the care.

RonH

If there is evidence that a person is in a "locked in" state then on what basis should that be discounted? Previously, in the case of Mrs. Houben, it was thought that he was in a permanently vegetative state. Should his brain activity be ignored and treatment changed in favor of our own subjective personal preferences and feelings or is medicine supposed to be based on the concept that human life is an objective intrinsic value and especially when we look at the case of Mss. Poutre in conjunction with Mr. Houben's apparent misdiagnosis. Consider that what mental contact Mr. Houben and others like him may have developed as a result of someone's persistence in addressing their condition from an objective human value concept instead of how we feel we would deal with a similar condition as theirs. Where would medicine be if we simply said, "I'd rather die than to be in their condition", rather than, "What can we do to help them out of or deal with this condition"? Any decision you make past someone else’s ability to help you is your own. The people helping Mr. Houben can not "ethically" practice based on a personal and subjective concept of what makes a life valuable. I appologize for this reading as hastily written.

Lb,

If there is evidence that a person is in a "locked in" state then on what basis should that be discounted?

In general, evidence should be discounted on the basis of better evidence to the contrary.*

In this case it is possible to test the 'facilitated communication' that is supposedly going on. As I said: Ask Mr. Houben a series of questions his 'facilitator' can't know the answers to. If the answers are right that strongly supports the idea that he is locked in and we are witnessing 'facilitated communication'. If the answers are wrong we discount the 'facilitated communication' evidence.

Note that all this would prove is that the 'facilitated communication' evidence is worthless. It would not prove that Mr. Houben is not locked in.

OK?

RonH

*In this case, I see no reason to count the 'facilitated communication' evidence in the first place. In the videos it looks like the woman is typing with Mr. Houben's finger. **

Exactly what is this facilitator supposed to be doing? I can think of two possibilities. #1) Feel Mr. Houben's attempts to type and somehow, key by key, support his efforts. #2) Read his mind and type what he's thinking. The typing seems to go way too fast to be explained by #1. If the method is #2, why bother involving his finger at all?

** This doesn't mean she is dishonest. She might believe she can feel, key by key, what he wants to type. She might believe she can read his mind.

Hi RonH,

You wrote:

“If I ever get in a vegetative state, please let me go. It won't matter to me people who are still there need the care.”

But obviously it does matter because you have the preference. The question should be: why would it matter if you were in a vegetative state what anyone did to you? Couldn’t we put you in a dark room and use your body for science? That might help others.

RonH-

Some of what you say is true. It is true that Houben's case is mixed up with facilitated communication.

However:

"New scanning techniques find that he [Houben] exhibits near normal brain activity"

It doesn't look like they're using facilitated communication to establish his neural activity.

I look at facilitated communication with a jaundiced eye as well. So much so, that I think I'm beyond skepticism. I'm positively convinced that it's usually, if not always, phony.

So my guess is that we are looking at what you called worst possibility. He's not in a vegetative state (as the brain scans show apart from facilitated communication), but he "wants to say something completely different from what his 'facilitator' types for him."

So factually, I think that's where things stand.

None of this is to say what should happen with Houben. On my view, the best alternative is to keep him alive. This is not a pleasant alternative, but the risks involved with any kind of euthanasia strike me as too great. We should not become the kind of society that euthanizes people. Sadly, our transformation into such a society is almost complete.

Since there is no definition of organism or life, then to call something a 'dead organism' is to NECESSARILY make a "Quality of life" judgement call.

ToNy,

Should we use your definition of life or can we use mine?

Hi KWM,

It matters to me now because I don't like the idea of resources being used on my body if I'm really in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) and, for example, someone who is conscious or even minimally conscious needs those same resources. It won't matter to me then because I won't have the capacity for anything to matter to me.

As far as the dark room goes, it would do me no harm but I suspect it might do you and others harm if you did it: it might desensitize you to violence.

The person portraying a victim of violence is not harmed (physically) but they and the audience are desensitized to violence. We have good reason to maintain a general and high sensitivity to violence: it prevents violence.


RonH

KWM,

exactly

its all subjective

"As far as the dark room goes, it would do me no harm but I suspect it might do you and others harm if you did it: it might desensitize you to violence.

The person portraying a victim of violence is not harmed (physically) but they and the audience are desensitized to violence. We have good reason to maintain a general and high sensitivity to violence: it prevents violence."

By a similar argument, don't we have a good reason not to kill a person in a vegetative state? Whether we load up a syringe with a lethal dose of morphine and put him down or slowly dehydrate him to death. It's not that such an individual would have his plans disrupted by the killing. It's that it desensitizes us to killing human beings. We have a good reason to maintain a general and high sensitivity to the killing of human beings: it prevents the killing of human beings.

"By a similar argument, don't we have a good reason not to kill a person in a vegetative state?"

I actually do believe yanking people off life support because the 'quality of life' thing is a dangerous idea. But I wonder what we do in cirumstances when it is geniunely unlikely that the person will recover. Stephen King, of all people, had an interesting metaphor. It's as if a building has collapsed on top of a person: they're still in there and maybe even alive, but for how long? I respect the choice to keep a loved one on life support, but at what point does it become false hope? I have to admit, I don't know much of the science behind brain injury.

Also, it's off-topic, but I just wanted to say that I admire the posters who frequent these discussions. You're a gracious lot and I love to learn from the intelligent, thoughtful debates here. So thank you!

RonH,

As a Christian I disagree with much of what you have to say. But, although it might hurt a cause I really believe in, I have to admit that you have a point with regard to the facilitated communication claimed in this case.

The media seem to simply accept the claim without question or inquiry of any kind. It should be checked out independently because the truth matters - to say nothing of Mr. Houben if he really is locked in and not saying what he appears to say through his facilitator.

RonH

(I waited for such a comment here. I hasn't come. So I made it myself.)

RonH-

I thought I did say something along those lines above. I didn't say in that post that I'm a Christian. But I am one, and Pro-Life to boot. And I was a bit harder on facilitated communication than your comment suggests. I more or less assume that it's phony. The technique is so discredited that it does not deserve as much effort as you suggest.

I suppose that I'm naive enough to think that the truth will not be hurt by a good argument and is seldom helped by a bad one. So I would not have said that your argument about facilitated communication, which, BTW, is good, would hurt my cause, which I believe to be true.

With that said, I think I also pointed out that brain scans have been used, not facilitated communication, to establish Houben's neural activity. So Mr. Houben almost certainly is locked in and not saying what he appears to say through his facilitator...your worst case scenario.

These facts have not escaped the media's attention and Houben's handling has fallen under stiff criticism. But criticism is all that can be done here. Houben's family believes in the facilitated communication.

Sure Tony, "it's all subjective". Just like you could have a different definition of the word “existence” than the IRS has.

They still come knocking.

RonH,

>>”It matters to me now because I don't like the idea of resources being used on my body if I'm really in a persistent vegetative”

Why don’t you? Not even to help others?

>> As far as the dark room goes, it would do me no harm but I suspect it might do you and others harm if you did it: it might desensitize you to violence.”

Why would this entail violence of any kind? Why would this harm me?

Hmmmmm.....if there is no clear cut definition of life and it is all subjective to what society accepts then we are all in trouble. May god have mercy on our souls.

Hi Virgil,

Just to clarify things: I definitely don’t think the definition of life is subjective.

WL,
I stand corrected. I just missed your post which says just what I was looking for. Sorry and I'm glad to see it.

I think some 'facilitators' believe what they claim - they might be confused or deluded rather than phony.

I caught one news video on locked in patience that said patients often ask to be allowed to die. What say you in that case?

RonH

Yikes! That's patients!

How do they ask if they are locked in? Through facilitators?

To speak to your broader question though, as a general rule that applies for the most part, I'm not in favor of killing someone even if they ask it. For one thing, I don't like what it does to the rest of us to transform our society into the kind that kills suicidal people.

I am also not in a position to see all ends. I can't tell whether an individual's life, taken as a whole, is worthwhile. Only God has that perspective.

Might it be possible to cook up some case that makes me squirm about this rule?

Probably.

WL,

Some locked in people can communicate - by blinking, for example:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diving_Bell_and_the_Butterfly

I haven't seen the movie yet. But it's at home so I will probably tonight.

Might it be possible to cook up some case that makes me squirm about this rule?

Probably.

Well said.

Ron

KWM,

>> Sure Tony, "it's all subjective". Just like you could have a different definition of the word “existence” than the IRS has. They still come knocking.

Yes this is a good point.

In the end, most taxonomies come down to the golden rule.

"Whoever has the gold, makes the rules."

it DOES NOT have ANYTHING to do with science.

KWM,

>> I definitely don’t think the definition of life is subjective.

Then can you give us the objective definition of life?

I want to know it.

Virgil,

>> if there is no clear cut definition of life and it is all subjective to what society accepts then we are all in trouble

yep

some truths are inconvenient

RonH,

>> I haven't seen the movie yet

Diving Bell is an ok movie.

not great

kinda sad.

He was able to move his eye.

Thats how he communicated.

Um ToNy,

I just finished it and thought it was beautiful. It's risky giving advice at this distance but I suggest thinking of it as more than kinda sad. Just a thought.

RonH

RonH,

If I understand your response correctly it doesn't really answer the question as to whether or not we are to assume someone is what is left is merely a brain dead husk that should be discarded based on a subjective or objective concept of "human value". There were also examples of those who were thought to be brain dead who ended up not being so. It also seems more reasonable and ethical to deal with the question of "when do we stop trying to provide medical help" because we are hopeful when their condition seems to be beyond our knowledge base (objective) than to stop that care because "we wouldn't want to live through it" (subjective). If we are to concede your point that the test is not conclusive the question of seeing human value from a subjective or objective standpoint remains. Also, from where are advancements mainly derived? Hope or despair?

ToNy,

I remember talking about "organisms" and "life" in elementary science class. What do you mean when you say that there is no definition or either?


Alyssa,

"You're a gracious lot and I love to learn from the intelligent".

I don't presume to be of the "intelligent" folk but it was a gracious thing of you to post.

LB,

As yourself, "who put wrote the definition of life in my textbook - and where did they get it from?"

wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_biology

Here is a paraphrase of ToNy's own words from his own web site (adapted to this conversation):

There is no master definition of "life" to be discovered.

There is no master definition of "organism" to be discovered.

One cannot prove with science that something is alive

One cannot prove with science that something is an organism.

These issues are merely questions of whose taxonomy we are going to use.

ToNy believes that these remarks are deep and significant.

-------------------------

The points are, in fact silly and self-stultifying.

The silly part is obvious. ToNy's remarks imply that lexicography is not a science.

But lexicography is a science, so he is simply wrong.

-------------------------

The self-stultifying part can be gotten to by noticing that if ToNy's general approach is correct:

There is no master definition of "master definition" to be discovered. It is just a question of whose taxonomy we are going to use.
What this means is that we really can have no objective and scientific idea what ToNy is talking about when he says things like "There is no master definition of "organism" to be discovered." This is because we have no idea what he means by "master definition".

So if ToNy's approach is correct, it is unintelligible.

By contraposition, ToNy's approach is intelligible only if it is incorrect.

-------------------------

Let's look at it a little differently.

Suppose that someone was convinced by ToNy's argument. He might, with a sad tear, decide that yes, all his definitions are relative to which taxonomy he adopts. But he is determined to give up to ToNy as little as possible.

He would start with a taxonomy that has a definition of "master definition". Under this definition, the definition of "master definition" would itself be a discoverable master definition. Furthermore, there would be discoverable master definitions of those things like "life" and "organism" and "human" that he wants to talk about. In short, he would adopt a taxonomy where communication is possible.

To be sure, he might adopt a different taxonomy from the one we are accustomed to. But that doesn't render communication impossible within that taxonomy. Nor does it render claims made from within that taxonomy false, unobjective or unscientific. It's just that in that taxonomy he would discover different objective facts about different objects.

For example, his taxonomy might have a definition that serves pretty much the same purpose as our definition of "planet" but which allows Pluto and a number of other large bodies in our solar system to count as planets. The term he uses might be "planet" or "schmlanet" or "hotdog". That doesn't matter. He will be able to say objective things about schmlanets (or whatever), just as we say objective things about planets.

Some of the objective things he says about schmlanets will be different from what we objectively say about planets. For example, some schmlanets are and some are not objects from the Kuiper Belt. But no planets are from the Kuiper Belt.

What he can't adopt is a taxonomy where there are no discoverable master definitions, because that is a taxonomy where there is no communication.

So what exactly has he given up to ToNy's argument?

Taxonomies where communication is impossible? Big sacrifice!

Lb,

I don't know all the answers when it comes to cases like this. No surprise there.

'Brain dead' is supposed to mean the person is not there anymore: gone. Gone as in 'could not ever come back'. It seems to me that 'brain dead' is a possible (and common) objective state of affairs. A hard thing to know? Perhaps. Something we could make mistakes about? Perhaps. But that's technical.

Yes, if a person is brain dead I am in favor of pulling the plug. The living get priority. I guess that is the kind of thing you wanted me to say? I expect we disagree.

"where are advancements mainly derived? Hope or despair? "

Depends on the reason for the hope / despair.

By contrast, the 'facilitated communication' (FC) aspect of this case seems to be an easy and important question to answer. That's why I focussed on it: Let's at least do the right thing when we can agree.

RonH

Wisdom Lover,

>> There is no master definition of "master definition"

not talking about epistemology in my website. Just a claim about circles we draw around atoms.

As to other words, those may indeed be platonic in nature.

e.g. these words refer to clusters of atoms

ipod
panda
computer
mouse

i'm only talking about those.

ToNy-

Your position still implies the false claim that lexicography is not a science. Any proposition that implies a false claim is, itself, false. So your position remains false.

Furthermore, your position still has the problem that if correct, it is impossible to make objectively meaningful claims about physical objects.

BTW, it's curious that you stop at drawing circles around atoms. I mean, why think that science has anything to say about whether atoms are natural kinds? What's so special about the circles we draw around quarks (or whatever the sub-atomic particle du jour is).

Wisdom Lover,

lexicography is really not the appropriate tree to bark up.

Taxonomy is.

My claim is that material taxonomies are subjective.

If you think they are objective, then perhaps you can solve the Species Problem for us.

It would really be a help.

Give us a genomic threshold number that we can use to distinguish one species from another.

Since the issue is whether certain terms are definable or not. The issue is lexicography.

All taxonomies are objective.

They are also conventions.

One of your problems is that you don't get that these are perfectly compatible claims.

As for the species problem. You have a reductionist view about species that is probably false. That the difference between two species is only about DNA.

DNA is a model that helps us talk about living things and their conditions and behaviors. But the fundamental facts are the living things and there conditions and behaviors.

ToNy,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life
It appears that in the context of this discussion, there is a definition of "life". Philosophical issues not-withstanding, the discussion should can and should follow within the parameters of the biological definition at the very least unless you wish to provide a reason why it should not. If not, then on why attempt to make declaritive statements on that which you do not believe has definition/

Lb,

"It appears that in the context of this discussion, there is a definition of "life""

nah

there's just opinions

there is no demonstrable definition of life, say, in the same way one can derive Pi.

wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_biology

Wisdom Lover,

>>Since the issue is whether certain terms are definable or not. The issue is lexicography.

No. The issue is whether terms for clusters of matter stand as referents to natural kinds.

>> All taxonomies are objective.

Uhmm. No.

Do you think the Dewey Decimal System is objectively the one true way to organize library books?

>> But the fundamental facts are the living things and there conditions and behaviors.

Well if you don't want to use DNA as a means of distinguishing species, then throw up another rule set.

But how might you convince someone that, any given rules set for distinguishing matter, is the actual objectively right one to use?

How might you use science to fight for your definition of the Panda?

ToNy,

"there's just opinions

there is no demonstrable definition of life, say, in the same way one can derive Pi."

If there is no definition of "life", what are doctors saying when they sign a death certificate? What is the family to understand of the situation that brings the doctor to write the certificate? If there is "no" definition of "life" then what is the certificate describing?
To say that there is no definition is a philosophical position which does not recognize the biological definitions. How do you answer the fact that the field of biology has and uses a definition of life?
How is the "Dewey Decimal System" being used in library's a valid analogy?

ToNy,

What is the premise of your question, "How might you use science to fight for your definition of the Panda?"

Of course the Dewey decimal system is objective.

It does not follow from this that there is one true way to organize books.

The Library of Congress system, is also quite objective.

What's quite clear here, is that you are not making a proper distinction between the conventional and the subjective.

As for DNA, I never said that I want to get rid of it or anything. I just don't want to be a reductionist about it. There are important facts about living things that do not boil down to truths about DNA. Perhaps the distinction between species is one of them.

Wisdom Lover,

>> "Of course the Dewey decimal system is objective."

hmm

You seem to be using a different definition of objective.

I use this one:

http://www.iep.utm.edu/objectiv/

Lb,

>> "What is the premise of your question, "How might you use science to fight for your definition of the Panda?""

That science cannot reveal this property of matter.

Lb,

>> "If there is no definition of "life", what are doctors saying when they sign a death certificate"

It depends heavily on the government the hospital is in.

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_death

>> "To say that there is no definition is a philosophical position which does not recognize the biological definitions."

please write down the biological definition of death for us

ToNy-

It's curious that for your definition of objectivity you cite an article that describes many different views about the subjective/objective distinction.

Still, from the IEP article:

"The object is something that presumably exists independent of the subject’s perception of it. In other words, the object would 'be there', as it is, even if no subject perceived it."

What happens? At night, when no one is in the high school library, do the books on English grammar disappear out of section 425?

Is it a matter of personal taste that books on English grammar get filed under 425? Can the trainee librarian who files a library book on English grammar under 525 (German Grammar) appeal to this argument?

Again. "By convention" is not the same as "Subjective".

WisdomLover,

For example, the 'set of integers' is taken to objectively exist - "would 'be there', as it is, even if no subject perceived it."

As for, say, the sets defined by the Dewey Decimal System, or the Linnean Taxonomy, or my baby cousins pet rock collection, -- those sets are not taken to actually objectively exist.

ToNy-

I take it, then, that you've never heard of non-standard models of arithmetic. The set of integers is as conventional a notion as the Dewey Decimal system.

And again "conventional" <> "subjective"

WisdomLover,

really?

is formal logic merely a convention too?

Of course it is.

At the syntactical level, you can't really believe that there is something magical about the symbols "&", "v" "~" and so on. They're not even universally used by logicians.

At the semantic level, there are scores of 'deviant' logics that are as correct and complete as standard logic. And there are incomplete systems that nevertheless are correct, and so long as you recognize the limitation of their incompleteness are perfectly trustworthy.

Just to anticipate a further epicycle, set theory is also convention. There are infinitely many interpretations of the axioms of set theory. There's a conventional interpretation that most logicians use.

All of this theory remains objective. All of it is filled with convention.

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