How to say goodbye
Chipping away at human uniqueness

When the lights go out

Consciousness in science is much discussed but little resolved, and as an abstract idea it's pretty slippery. How language and consciousness are fundamentally related is likewise unknown. Many of the ways we first learn language are unconscious. Without intending to, infants absorb the complicated rules that adult speakers abide by. On the other hand, anyone who has tried to learn a second language knows that words and syntax can require an all too conscious attention. Coma patients may be the most obvious control group for the rest of us. What happens to language, what happens to everything, when consciousness is suddenly obliterated? Liz Garbus's incredible HBO film Coma investigates what's at stake when people experience coma. The documentary, which previewed two weeks ago (and can still be seen on HBO), follows individuals who must pass through different shades of consciousness in order to return to normality, or at least to get as close as possible. The latest New Scientist also has an excellent feature on persistent vegetative state, the next stage a recovering coma patient may go through.

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