On The End of Consciousness During Aging

Aging is a part of life that everyone has to go through at some point. It is absolutely painful to observe a love one going through the declination in health, both mentally and physically. With advancement in technology, the physical body is getting stronger and more long-lived; meanwhile, the brain may not able to be preserved in the same manner. Dementia could be the result of the brains living beyond what they were designed for. Therefore, as more people are living longer, dementia is becoming more common in the population as a whole. This phenomenon raises many issues on caregiver’s responsibility, human rights, medical ethics, and existential neuroscience.

People with abnormal aging often go through diminishing recognition as well as diminishing awareness of the loss of abilities. The big controversy-provoking question is that whether the loss of self-consciousness when the brain loses mental faculties means the end of the “self” and the moral status. What if the consciousness still exists even in the case of advanced dementia? If not, are we wasting the social and economical potentials on prolonging the life of those who have already gone? Is this ethical to withdraw life supporting means when people are in the advanced stage of dementia?

Dementia is an incurable and terminal disease. There is no effective treatments to halt or slow the progression of dementia nor medications for the behavioral and psychological symptoms that commonly accompany. Taking care of abnormally aging patients costs hundreds of billions dollars a year, yet all means still lead to the inevitable death of the patients sooner or later. For those reasons, in the case of advanced dementia and Alzheimer’s disease where the consciousness ends, I assume that it would not be unethical or immoral to withdraw life-saving measures if physicians have consent from the patients (before losing consciousness) and/or from family.

As whether dementia is a state, in which withholding life-support measures can be considered, is a debatable topic, my opinion rises arguments from the perspectives of ones who have dementia family members. From my viewpoint, this might only be the struggle between eros and agape types of love. Some of us might only want to prolong the life of our loved ones because our eros, the more selfish type of love, wants to keep them alive for the comfort of ourselves, not theirs; meanwhile, the altruistic love, agape, otherwise, would let go when in time even if it brings discomfort to ourselves.

Looking deeper into the scholarly discussion of this dilemma, I found myself standing in the middle, without any ability to neither disapprove nor stand for any side of this argument. On the one hand, it is true that medical ethics of non-maleficence and lack of family’s permission prevent physicians to retreat any means of life-support. On the other hand, medical ethics also include autonomy, the respect to the patient’s wishes, and beneficence, serving the best interests of patients. In my final reflection and analysis, I hold a belief that if the patients have understood all of their options and formally choose how their end-of-life care before the consciousness fades, physicians and caregivers should respect and honor that option. However, I don’t think I have enough knowledge and experience to determine whether I agree or disagree that dementia is a state in which lifesaving measure should not be taken.

When consciousness ceases is a practical and problematic dilemma as aging is a common process that we all have to go through at some point in our life. The righteousness of the opinion may not lie in common sense but largely defined by one’s point of view and by the unique situation of each individual cases. However, the dilemma definitely rises various questions as well as clues for future studies in brain science. How much neurological tools tell us about one’s moral status or state of consciousness? What can we learn about neural mechanism through the study of AD’s brain? What ways can we advance our mental health? Those are just some among thousands of trace for researches in this contemporary life.

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What is romantic love actually?

Romantic love is such an emotional rollercoaster. It brings us up and might also toss us like not thing ever happen. Why do we put ourselves in such emotional instability? Does romantic love make our lives anymore meaningful than other relationships do? Or is this just a way for us to escape from our loneliness, sufferings, and existential crisis? Is romantic love, like Freudian assumption, a disguise for our sexual desire? Or a trick of biology to make us procreate?

As a psychology and science enthusiast, I love to find scientific prove on how and why people think the way they do. The question of romantic love is an interesting field that I personally think affective scientists can invest more into. Researches have been done on animals to find the biological and psychological key of pair-bonding, familial love, and friendship. But not many studies drawn to why people have  a desire to find the ‘other half’. If we can find the components of romantic love, could we formulate one? Or even better, find the true love for all?


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Scholarly Spoof

A couple of weeks ago Tori mentioned this article, “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema.” It makes the point that when we look at other cultures, we tend to exoticize them in ways that distort our view (because they are “other” and we are “normal”). Here an anthropologist takes a look in the mirror – but actually making us see what it’s like to have your everyday lived experience be seen as strange.

. . . their nation was originated by a culture hero, Notgnihsaw, who is otherwise known for two great feats of strength-the throwing of a piece of wampum across the river Pa-To-Mac and the chopping down of a cherry tree in which the Spirit of Truth resided . . .
Here’s another revealing article about how we know when a work is scholarly. You can also see this research presented at a scholarly conference.

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A Liberal Arts Education

I feel like the liberal arts curriculum at Gustavus is not very effective. To me, it is just like a sketchy combination of intro-levels, easy electives or electives that fit into your schedule, scattered knowledge and a tendency to take more courses of a field we are good at that becomes our major. As time goes by, I’m more concerned about getting a job after graduation rather than satiating a thirst of general knowledge – the purpose of liberal arts education. If a job or graduate school is the goal then you need to really focus on your major and just have to take electives that fit your major schedule even though they may not be of your interest. If the fulfillment of knowledge is the goal then there is not actually enough time to fulfill it, because you have to have a major.

Actually after letting all the criticism out, I see some good sides of it. However, for now I will leave the topic here for future thoughts.

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What to research?

I had an interview with my mathematics professor, Jacob Siehler. Among what we talked about, we discussed how to choose research ideas. For him, research topic is usually a loose end somewhere that he encounters in mathematical studies or reading. It intrigues him to dig in deeper in the matter. From his experience, when you review literature on a topic and find that other people have done solid research on it, it is then just a waste of time to continue as it has already been done. It is also a waste of time to dig in the problems that even the great minds (Newton, Descastes, etc.) were still stuck at because you are probably not going to find anything anyway, and also because a lot of mathematicians throughout history have tried and failed. I guess what you can take out of this is to be practical with your time.

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Sugar is Bad For You

And, according to this long article from The Guardian, we didn’t notice because a bossy nutrition scientist from the University of Minnesota made fun of and basically destroyed the reputation of anyone who said the evidence suggested fat and cholesterol didn’t cause heart disease, sugar did. When low fat diets became a healthy choice, the food industry replaced fat with sugar. Lots of it.

I know sugar isn’t good for you, but to evaluate this story properly I’d have to confirm it with sources I trust and/or look at the underlying research. Oh look, I did. Anyway, I thought this paragraph was interesting and relevant to the course.

By opening the gates of publishing to all, the internet has flattened hierarchies everywhere they exist. We no longer live in a world in which elites of accredited experts are able to dominate conversations about complex or contested matters. Politicians cannot rely on the aura of office to persuade, newspapers struggle to assert the superior integrity of their stories. It is not clear that this change is, overall, a boon for the public realm. But in areas where experts have a track record of getting it wrong, it is hard to see how it could be worse. If ever there was a case that an information democracy, even a very messy one, is preferable to an information oligarchy, then the history of nutrition advice is it.

Ouch. The article does a good job of leading up to this conclusion showing how a particular field – nutrition – has failed to adhere to scientific standards and protected bad findings from criticism.

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Lit. Review Update

Have you ever had one of those moments when you realize that there was something else that needed to be done. Well, that is how my literature review has been going: backburnered into Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen.

My general area is the relationship between education and rhetoric (how the two shape and form each other) and the creation of marginalization as a result of that relationship. Within my general area, I will focus in on Ancient Greek culture – specifically fourth and fifth century Athens.

As for sources, I have decided that I will use Antiphon and Aristophanes as my two Ancient sources. I have yet to dive deep into the abyss of modern analysis. Currently, my strategy is the blunt force method; in which I grind my way through the books (and book-y things).


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This course will give students interested in going to graduate or professional school—or who simply want to know more about research—an immersion in the structure of the literature of their chosen field and exposure to research tools and collections. Students will conduct a literature review on a topic of their choice and will analyze aspects of their discipline’s traditions, compare them to traditions in other fields, and explore the social and ethical dimensions of research.

The collage used in the header is by mypixbox, who has made it available under a Creative Commons license.

This is an open course. Feel free to use the material here.

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