Seeking info on human brain wave patterns ( EEG )

Alan J. Robinson robin073 at
Fri Dec 29 13:31:52 EST 1995

On Thu, 28 Dec 1995 10:13:36 -0500, 
JOHN PARRISH THOMPSON   <gsi03919 at> wrote:

>    I am currently working on a theory of personhood and its defining 
>characteristics and desperately need expert information on comparative 
>brain wave patterns between "normal" conscious humans, sleeping humans, 
>higher order primates, such as chimpanzees, mentally handicapped 
>children, comatose humans ( not braindead ), and human fetuses.
>    My central question revolves around whether it is possible with 
>todays technology for a trained neurobiologist or neuropsychologist to 
>examine an electroencephalagram of the above listed subjects and 
>determine from the patterns only if the subject is human?  For example, 
>is to possible to look only at the EEG of a human fetus and conclusively 
>differentiate it from that of a chimpanzee?  Or say the EEG of a comatose 
>human opposed to that of a chimpanzee?
>    The theory I am working on rejects the commonsense notion of 
>personhood proposed by philosophers such as Joel Feinberg as it omits too 
>many individuals which we regularly accord the natural rights of 
>persons.  In a move of extreme reductionism I am seeking to isolate one 
>defining characteristic which would conclusively determine the personhood 
>or nonpersonhood of the subject in question.  I believe the key to this 
>may lie in human brainwave patterns.  Any information which any 
>subscribers to this service may be able to provide me would be greatly 
>appreciated even if it is only to tell me that my ideas may be feasible 
>but no one has conducted the necessary comparative research which would 
>be required to conclusively answer my question.


The EEG (which shows mostly cortical waveforms) is an extremely 
limited tool for exploring the scientific aspects of this subject.  

For a very long time it was thought that because the cerebral cortex 
was much larger in humans than even our closest animal relatives that 
everything that was unique to humans such as language and diseases 
like schizophrenia had to be primarily cortical.  This is now known to 
be false - much of the important action takes place at a subcortical 
level in such structures as the thalamus and the basal ganglia.

And the sharp distinction that many have made between humans and 
other species (e.g. animals have no soul) has begun to fade as the 
implications of a shared evolutionary history have finally sunk 

There is a good discussion of some of these issues in Gerald 
Edelman's book "The Remembered Present" - esp. the chapter "Diseases 
of Consciousness".  There is still much to be learned in this 
crucial area of science - it was almost impossible to study many of 
these phenomena prior to the recent development of functional brain 
imaging techniques such as PET.


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