The Mind Body Problem and the Locked In Syndrome

By | March 14, 2014

Stephen Hawking continues to work despite suffering from the locked in syndrome on the basis of a severe case of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig's Disease).  His mental faculties are completely intact and he communicates via eye movements.

Stephen Hawking continues to work despite suffering from the locked in syndrome on the basis of a severe case of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease). His mental faculties are completely intact and he communicates via eye movements.

Even in cases where the function of the mind seems to fully define the life of an individual, such as those who suffer from the locked in syndrome I would argue that it is the physical, which is really the defining quality. The locked in syndrome is a condition, where consciousness and intelligence are intact but the patient is able to interact with the outside world only by the movement of their eyes. This condition is often the result of certain brain stem or pontine strokes or severe cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Famous persons who have suffered from the locked in syndrome include Parisian journalist, Jean-Dominique Bauby, British footballer, Gary Parkinson, English physicist, Stephen Hawking and the character of M. Noirtier de Villefort in Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo. All of the first three have continued to work despite being locked in, in the first case writing his memoirs, in the second case scouting football players by watching DVDs and in the third case by working on transductions systems to allow similarly afflicted individuals to communicate by transducing brain wave patterns or facial expressions, in each case communicating by eye movements. Their accomplishments certainly attest to the indomitable nature of the human spirit. Nevertheless I would argue that their existences are defined more by the disabilities of the body than the abilities of the mind.  I say this because with the possible exception of Hawking I would wager that all of the sufferers would gladly exchange substantial portions of their mental powers for a normal body.


Leave Your Comment