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When You Can't Escape Yourself: Being Locked In Your Own Brain

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The Open University
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Flickr
Dawn Faizey Webster developed locked-in syndrome after suffering a stroke. She communicates through eye blinks and tiny head movements. Webster recently completed a degree in history using a special laptop that translates her eye movements into text.

What would it be like to be trapped in your own body? Locked-in syndrome is a condition where a patient is fully aware and conscious, but almost completely paralyzed. They can’t speak or communicate.  For many, it's a nightmare.

"This is worse than solitary confinement, because in solitary confinement you can at least move and exercise, move your body about. So, in some sense, it is like living hell," says neuroscientist Christof Koch.

Koch is president and chief scientific officer of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle. He researches the nature of consciousness and where it comes from in the brain. Koch tells Gabriel Spitzer how locked-in patients reveal what it means to be conscious - to be human - when you can’t fully interact with the world.

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