On Words, Abbreviations, and Consciousness

On Words, Abbreviations, and Consciousness

November 03, 2008 Editorials

Opinion Editorial by Douglas L. Beck, AuD
Board Certified in Audiology
American Academy of Audiology
Web Content Editor

Of course, as an audiologist, I'm not exactly in a good position to judge other professions' use of words, acronyms, or abbreviations. After all, we have "AN," which might mean acoustic neuroma or it might mean auditory neuropathy (not two things we'd like to confuse). Thankfully, we've now added "AD" after "AN" to make it more clear, as in "auditory neuropathy/auditory dys-synchrony (AN/AD). But I guess that could also mean an acoustic neuroma on the right? Alas. Of course, that's not really why we added AD after AN, but it might as well have been!

We also have CAP, APD, CAPD and (c)APD. Probably best for me to not comment on that.

So it was really interesting for me to read from the sidelines as Heidi Ledford reviewed the state of other words and professions in Nature magazine. Ms. Ledford noted that the term "paradigm shift" was first coined by Thomas Kuhn (1962) in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn apparently was referring to Copernicus who noted the sun was the center of the solar system. That was a big change, really big. It required that all previous thought on the matter had to be re-thought. Okay, guilty as charged. I once used "paradigm shift" while referring to adding OAEs to my clinical protocol. I guess that was more of an addition of OAEs to my clinical protocol than an actual paradigm shift.

Ledford reported the word "epigenetic" has had many meanings over the years. A quick look at https://www.dictionary.com/ defined it as "the study of how genes produce their effect on the phenotype of the organism." However, Leford's final notes on that word is from Adrian Bird, who said " Epigenetics is a useful word if you don't know what's going on. If you do (know what's going on) you use something else." Other words addressed by Leford included "complexity," "race," "tipping point," "stem cell," "significant," and "consciousness."

Regarding consciousness, she noted that for clinicians the definition of consciousness can mean life or death (for the patient). One example comes from a woman diagnosed as being in a vegetative state. However, brain activity was noted via fMRI (which is dependent on blood flow to register changes). Ledford reported that fMRI result challenged the traditional definition of consciousness which was previously based on volitional response to stimuli. The volitional response outcome has previously been used to determine pain medication levels, as well as yes/no decisions regarding life support. And so the definition of consciousness may need attention, too. Michael Gazzaniga (neuroscientist at UCSB) indicated that we don't need a "precise" definition for consciousness, just a working one. Ledford quoted Gazzaniga, "You don't waste your time defining the thing (consciousness), you just go out there and study it." Okay, that may be, but then based on quantum physics, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science (and based on microscopic observation centuries earlier) noted , "The mere act of observation affects the experimental findings."

The more things change...

For More Information, References and Recommendations:
Beck, DL (2008): Predicting Normal Neural Activity

Beck, DL (2008): fMRI:2008 Review and Update

Weizmann Institute Of Science (1998, February 27). Quantum Theory Demonstrated: Observation Affects Reality. ScienceDaily.

Ledford, H. (2008, October 23): Disputed Definitions.Nature - The International Weekly Journal of Science, 455, 1007-1148, No 7216.

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