Is it possible to meaningfully communicate with people in a vegetative state?
Patients in a vegetative state are awake, not in a coma, but have no awareness because of severe brain damage.
(BBC video shows first time someone in a vegetative state has responded to a question)
A Canadian man who was believed to have been in a vegetative state for more than a decade, has been able to tell scientists that he is not in any pain.
It's the first time an uncommunicative, severely brain-injured patient has been able to give answers clinically relevant to their care.
Scott Routley, 39, was asked questions while having his brain activity scanned in an fMRI machine.
His doctor says the discovery means medical textbooks will need rewriting.
Vegetative patients emerge from a coma into a condition where they have periods awake, with their eyes open, but have no perception of themselves or the outside world.
Fans of Philip K. Dick recall the protophason amplifier from his 1969 novel Ubik that allowed the living to communicate with those in "half-life", a kind of life after death made possible with cold-pac bins:
When he located the correct party he scrutinized the lading report attached. It gave only fifteen days of half-life remaining. Not very much, he reflected; automatically he pressed a portable protophason amplifier into the transparent plastic hull of the casket, tuned it, listened at the proper frequency for indication of cephalic activity.
Faintly from the speaker a voice said, "... and then Tillie sprained her ankle and we never thought it'd heal...
Update: See also this reference to brain-case from Edmond Hamilton's 1938 story Murder in the Void, a very early mention of the idea that it could be possible to communicate with a brain directly.