According to some theories on how self-awareness arises in the brain, Patient R, a man who suffered a severe brain injury about 30 years ago, should not possess this aspect of consciousness.
In 1980, a bout of encephalitis caused by the common herpes simplex virus damaged his brain, leaving Patient R, now 57, with amnesia and unable to live on his own.
Even so, Patient R functions quite normally, said Justin Feinstein, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Iowa who has worked with him. “To a layperson, to meet him for the first time, you would have no idea anything is wrong with him,” Feinstein said.
Feinstein and colleagues set out to test Patient R’s level of self-awareness using a battery of tools that included a mirror, photos, tickling, a lemon, an onion, a personality assessment and an interview that asked profound questions like “What do you think happens after you die?” [The Science of Death: 10 Morbid Tales]
Their conclusion — that Patient R’s self-awareness is largely intact in spite of his brain injury — indicates certain regions of the brain thought crucial for self-awareness are not.
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