In a Coma, Do We Cease to Exist?

10/08/10
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Giulio Tononi

Giulio Tononi is an award-winning psychiatrist and neuroscientist whose main focus has been the scientific understanding of consciousness. His integrated information theory is a comprehensive theory of what consciousness is, how it can be measured, and how it is realized in the brain.

What happens when someone slips into a vegetative state? Do they feel pain? Do they think? Without consciousness, do they ostensibly cease to exist? Such questions have haunted neuroscientists—and countless family members of coma victims—for ages. But new research is shedding light on these issues and what is a larger existential question about the nature of consciousness itself.