Cognitive scientist Antonio Damasio has witnessed first-hand the altered conscious state an epileptic enters. He tried to interact with the man, who was suffering from an absense seizure, but found he was unable to do so. Damasio noted that the man did not fall over and his eyes remained open.
Damasio’s situation sounds disturbing. After all, this man was hardly acting human, and his future actions seemed to be unpredictable. Was the man having the seizure thinking of anything? It is as though everything that made up his person-hood suddenly scurried away somewhere, like a hermit crab, leaving his functioning body behind like an empty but hospitable shell.
The epileptic man transitioned from being a person with whom Damasio interacted, to being a “patient etherized upon a table.” He was observable but unreachable.
The epileptic man was not conscious, despite his brain’s apparent ability to mimic wakeful consciousness. Nothing that he did stemmed personality or desires; he ran like a simple computer, a series of processes. Humans do not normally or easily interact with an object that lacks consciousness; we crave connections. When a person is having a seizure, and we are unable to meaningfully interact with him, how do we respond?