The human brain can do many things – regulates our body functions, processes enormous amounts of information and is where all our higher functions take place.
What the human brain can’t do is be aware of it’s own functioning, and as a result, people don’t think of themselves as being their brain supported by the body.
For most people, if they think about their brain, it’s just another organ that acts as the body’s coordinator. Part of the reason is that most people think they have a soul or that they are some energy being that is existing in a corporeal form on this plane of existence.
That the self continues to exist in some form after the body dies. But, the self is one of those higher brain functions.
It’s obvious when you consider people who have had strokes, brain injuries or a degenerative brain disease. They don’t have the same personality, cognitive abilities or interaction anymore.
It’s not the case that they are trapped inside a brain that is not allowing them to communicate, the brain’s capacity is reduced by damage and so the person changes with the damage.
Which brings me to coma patients.
Movies and TV shows always show coma patients waking up from a deep sleep. They are their same selves as before, able to walk and talk, often with little confusion and no issues getting back into life. Well, unless it’s a disease of the week TV movie, and then it’s all about the brave recovery that succeeds.
Even factoring for the varying degrees of comas, the length of time in a coma, most people who are in comas do not recover to their former state. Most die, many remain in comas and the ones who do recover, do not have the same physical or mental abilities as before the coma.
There is no awareness without brain function, you are not aware but trapped in a non-responsive body while in a coma. The brain is damaged and/or oxygen impaired and is operating at a lower capacity. It can’t generate the “self” anymore.
I did find this interesting article about using stimulus to encourage the brain to re-map or repair itself.
The above garden path is heading to this blog topic: family of the coma patient having their crisis being taken advantage of by the unscrupulous facilitated communication industry.
Parents of non-communicative autistic children are also at risk of exploitation by these same folks.
Since there is no “self” trapped inside a body unable to communicate, there is no-one directing the facillator. Even if there was a “self” trapped, there’s no ability for one person to touch a non-responsive person and be able to communicate mind to mind. People do not plug into each other and transfer files. Our brains are more powerful than computers, but they are not peer to peer networks.
Holding a person’s fingers and guiding them across a keyboard is pretty much the same as people playing Ouija. The non-responsive person’s hand is along for the ride.
In tests of facilitated communication with autistic children, it was determined that the facilitator was the responder, not the autistic child.
“many scientific studies have demonstrated that the procedure is not valid because the outcome is actually determined by the “facilitator.” [1,2] In one study, for example, autistic patients and facilitators were shown pictures of familiar objects and asked to identify them under three types of conditions: (a) assisted typing with facilitators unaware of the content of the stimulus picture, (b) unassisted typing, and (c) a condition in which the participants and facilitators were each shown pictures at the same time. In this last condition the paired pictures were either the same or different, and the participant’s typing was “facilitated” to label or describe the picture. No patient gave a correct response when the facilitator had not been shown the picture. The researchers concluded that the facilitators were not aware that they were influencing the patients “
“If you could read the mind of a person with severe autism, the argument went, you would discover a person who could read at a high level, express sophisticated emotions, and even write a touching essay about the pain and isolation of living with autism.”
The problem with this thought is that we cannot read anyone’s mind. The human brain is self-contained, it is not a broadcaster nor a receiver.
The performers who appear to read minds aren’t reading minds. They are mentalists who have studied people and know what are common things. They throw out vague questions and allow the audience or person being read to provide the information.
Many people have mantles on the fireplace and the vast majority have photos on them. Many people keep money or valuables in their bedstands, and it tends to be the left side of the bed that the dominant partner sleeps on – so that’s where the money is.
Remember the scene in Wizard of Oz when Dorothy has run away and she meeting the crystal ball reader? He diverts her attention and looks into her basket and finds the photo of Auntie Em. He then says general statements, but it’s Dorothy who says the old woman is Auntie Em. Dorothy is too young to consider her impact on her aunt and uncle, but the man knows that they would be worried and so manipulates Dorothy into returning home.
Here’s how to be a psychic in 10 easy lessons. (pdf)
So, if you can’t read a responsive person’s mind when they are feeding you clues and information. Why would anyone accept the claim that a non-responsive (severe autistic or coma) person’s mind could be read?
I am sure that there are many people who practice facilitated communication who are sincere in their beliefs. But sincere belief isn’t a comfort to the families being taken advantage of, nor to the coma patient who’s existence is extended on the basis of this communication and the faint hope or recovery, nor the autistic child who’s parents make treatment decisions based on this “break through”.
Wishful thinking is a powerful drug.
But sincerity isn’t always a good thing, many terrible historical events were caused by sincere people.
Critical thinking, which is very hard to do when you are emotionally desperate and willing to try anything to make the crisis end or lessen.
But that doesn’t excuse the people who undertake the training and worse the ones who offer it, nor the general public who encourages or allows such belief and practice to flourish.
These people are not in emotional distress, they can presumably think clearly and chose not to.
They are perpetuating a “complementary” therapy as something that is valid and produces results, when any close and critical thinking examination of the concept and an evaluation of the practice shows that it’s a time waster that may delay or prevent other treatments with potential.
Health care and treatment is not served by a shot gun anything goes it can’t hurt so it must help mentality.
Yes, it can hurt – it can hurt by delaying other treatments. It can hurt by extending the existence of the coma patient, increase the trauma of the family who will inevitably have to decide about ceasing life support or allowing the person to slowly fail and expire.
Yes it hurts everyone by adding costs and delay – as well as diverting resources like staff, equipment, supplies, medicines and a bed – to healthcare.
I understand how desperately difficult it can be to lose a family member. How hard it is to watch them decline and fail.
I empathize with how hard it is to watch your child fail to thrive.
But the false comfort provided by facilitated communication, by therapeutic touch and other so called complementary medicines….
The reason it’s complementary is because it doesn’t work as a primary care.
If it doesn’t work there, then the only purpose that it serves is as a placebo emotional band aid to assure the families and parents that they tried everything.
If the treatment isn’t for the patient’s benefit, then why do it?