What It’s Like to Be Locked-In, part 3 – The Willingness to Understand

I had not regressed to infancy, yet, owing to my immobility, the nursing staff tended to treat me as an infant. Does anyone stop to ask a newborn whether he is comfortably installed in his or her bassinet? Nothing is worse than being taken for a baby when you are in your thirties.

I therefore tended to divide all human beings into two categories: those who were willing to understand me and…everyone else.

~Philippe Vigand, Only the Eyes Say Yes, p. 25



Filed under Consciousness, Neuroethics

2 responses to “What It’s Like to Be Locked-In, part 3 – The Willingness to Understand

  1. Thank you for taking the phenomenology of disabilities like this seriously. So often, it seems that philosophers (not limited to Peter Singer) are the ones questioning whether disabled people have consciousness or are even really people at all. And since unfortunately philosophical beliefs affect how we treat people in the real world, this has terrible consequences…I’ve seen people turn away from philosophy, and I’ve turned away from some parts of it myself, for these reasons, but it’s a shame because philosophy celebrates clear thinking in a way no other discipline seems to. Thank you for bringing me back to philosophy.

  2. Thanks for the comment!

    I do indeed take phenomenology very seriously – it’s absolutely vital that people have an accurate understanding of the mental life of these patients without making blanket statements about a whole population of people based on a flawed or overly simplistic understanding of the brain-mind connection.

    It’s tragic to me that people could be turned off of philosophy because of philosophers making false and ignorant claims about a highly technical subject such as consciousness and brain injury. The human brain is capable of remarkable plasticity after recovery and is built such that motor function and cognitive function can dissociated in a variety of ways. The rarity of the cases makes misdiagnosis and misunderstanding common because people just aren’t educated enough to know that just because someone *looks* totally responsive doesn’t mean there isn’t any processing. It’s Chomsky’s old performance/competence distinction.

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