Tag Archives: OCD

EEG device detects consciousness in persons in persistent vegetative state

Here’s an interesting article from the New Scientist.


Signs of consciousness have been detected in three people previously thought to be in a vegetative state, with the help of a cheap, portable device that can be used at the bedside.

“There’s a man here who technically meets all the internationally agreed criteria for being in a vegetative state, yet he can generate 200 responses [to direct commands] with his brain,” says Adrian Owen of the University of Western Ontario. “Clearly this guy is not in a true vegetative state. He’s probably as conscious as you or I are.”

[Owen’s team] devised a test that uses the relatively inexpensive and widely available electroencephalogram (EEG).

An EEG uses electrodes attached to the scalp to record electrical activity in the brain.

Owen and his team used an EEG on 16 people thought to be in a PVS and compared the results with 12 healthy controls while they were asked to imagine performing a series of tasks.

Each person was asked to imagine at least four separate actions – either clenching their right fist or wiggling their toes.

In three of the people with PVS, brain regions known to be associated with those tasks lit up with activity, despite physical unresponsiveness. This suggested to the researchers that the subjects were carrying out a complex set of cognitive functions including hearing the command, understanding language, sustaining attention and tapping into working memory.

“It isn’t the case that just because somebody doesn’t respond they’re not conscious,” Owen says. “There’s a growing body of data now demonstrating that many of these patients aren’t what they appear.”

The rest of the article talks about how the scientists are planning to use their new technique to communicate with patients by asking them to think of specific things which will mean “yes” or “no”. The long-term goal is to get the patients to be able to communicate, perhaps even allow them to move a mouse pointer by triggering reactions in their brains by using their thoughts.

I think this research dovetails nicely with the OCD research I mentioned before. Maybe now would be a good time to talk more about that research.

William Dembski discusses the OCD research of Jeffrey Schwartz.


Schwartz provides a nonmaterialist interpretation of neuroscience and argues that this interpretation is more compelling than the standard materialist interpretation. He arrived at this position as a psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD sufferers recognize obsessive-compulsive thoughts and urges as separate from their intrinsic selves. For instance, after a few washings, the compulsive hand-washer realizes that his hands are clean and yet feels driven to keep washing them. It was reflection on this difference between the obvious truth (the hands are clean) and the irrational doubts (they might still be dirty) that prompted Schwartz to reassess the philosophical underpinnings of neuroscience.

From brain scans, Schwartz found that certain regions in the brain of OCD patients (the caudate nucleus in particular) exhibited abnormal patterns of activity. By itself this finding is consistent with a materialist view of mind (if, as materialism requires, the brain enables the mind, then abnormal patterns of brain activity are likely to be correlated with dysfunctional mental states). Nonetheless, having found abnormal patterns of brain activity, Schwartz then had OCD patients engage in intensive mental effort through what he called relabeling, reattributing, refocusing, and revaluing (the 4 Rs). In the case of compulsive hand-washing, this involved a patient acknowledging that his hands were in fact clean (relabeling); attributing anxieties and doubts about his hands being dirty to a misfunctioning brain (reattributing); directing his thoughts and actions away from handwashing and toward productive ends (refocusing); and, lastly, understanding at a deep level the senselessness of OCD messages (revaluing).

Schwartz documents not only that patients who undertook this therapy experienced considerable relief from OCD symptoms, but also that their brain scans indicated a lasting realignment of brain-activity patterns. Thus, without any intervention directly affecting their brains, OCD patients were able to reorganize their brains by intentionally modifying their thoughts and behaviors. The important point for Schwartz here is not simply that modified thoughts and behaviors permanently altered patterns of brain activity, but that such modifications resulted from, as he calls it, “mindful attention”-conscious and purposive thoughts or actions in which the agent adopts the stance of a detached observer.

It turns out that people can freely choose to exert “mental effort” in order to change what their brains are doing.

By the way, if you like this topic, and want a resource to show your friends, be sure and get a hold of the debate on mind vs. brain between Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Michael Shermer.

Evidence for the soul from science in the book “The Spiritual Brain”

I found a great book review of “The Spiritual Brain” on the Poached Egg – an excellent place for Christian apologists to find things to read. The book review is hosted at Probe Ministries and is authored by Heather Zeiger. The book talks about evidence from neuroscience showing that the mind cannot be reduced to merely physical processes.


We have shown, however, how the evidence from neuroscience doesn’t seem to fit the materialistic worldview. As we will see, some experiments reported in The Spiritual Brain cannot be explained from this worldview. What we will find is that they fit nicely within a Christian worldview.

The first example is obsessive compulsive disorder therapy. Obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, occurs when a person has distressing or unwanted thoughts that dominate their thinking, and these obsessions trigger an urge to do some kind of ritual behavior, also known as a compulsion. The interesting thing about OCD is that the person knows that the obsession is irrational and the ritual won’t really fix it, but their feelings tell them otherwise. Scientific studies have shown that the brain is actually misfiring. The part of the brain that tells a person, “There’s a problem, do something to fix it,” is firing at the wrong times. OCD is a clear case of a healthy mind and a malfunctioning brain.

A materialistic worldview would say that the only way to treat OCD is by physically fixing the bad neurons. However, the treatment that actually works involves the patients mentally fixing the bad neurons. Patients learn to take control of their OCD by recognizing when their brain is misfiring, and try to starve the urges to do the ritual. After treatment, brain scans show that the brain of an OCD patient is starting to fix itself. The patient is changing his physical brain with his mind!

Similar kinds of therapies have been applied to depression and phobias.In both cases, The Spiritual Brain reports instances where a patient’s brain chemistry was directly affected by their mind.

Another phenomenon that can’t be explained from a materialist’s worldview is the placebo effect. The patient is given a medicine that they are told will help them, but in actuality they are given a sugar pill. Interestingly, the patient’s belief that the sugar pill will help them has caused measurable, observable relief from symptoms. Many doctors say that a patient’s attitude oftentimes can help or hinder real medicines or therapies from working.

The ability of the mind to change the brain’s chemistry does not fit within a materialistic worldview. But as Christians we know that our minds are very real and can have a very real effect on our physical bodies.

You can read more about the OCD research here. The scientist is Jeffrey M. Schwartz. He has also published work on this in peer-reviewed journals.

I liked “The Spiritual Brain” so much that I gave away copies to my co-workers a few years back. When I am talking to people about the mind and the brain, I like to augment the philosophical arguments (free will, intentionality, identity over time, etc.) with arguments from neuroscience, and even corroborative near death experiences. You can make a pretty good case for the soul if you pull together evidence from lots of disciplines.

By the way, if you like this topic, and want a resource to show your friends, be sure and get a hold of the debate on mind vs. brain between Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Michael Shermer.

UPDATE: I just received word from a commenter (below) that Dr. Beauregard has a new book coming out next year. Good news!