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Thread: Definition of a cure

  1. #1

    Definition of a cure

    Some time ago, during extensive debates about what a cure is, I posted a definition of "cure" that is similar to a test for intelligent computers proposed by Alan Turing in 1950. In the 1950's, there was extensive discussions concerning how one can tell that a computer is "intelligent". Basically, the proposal was that if an observer cannot tell the difference between the responses of a computer and an intelligent person, the computer must be intelligent.

    The same Turing test can be applied to distinguish a cure. If a casual observer who does not know your history cannot detect that you have been spinal-injured, then you have essentially been cured. There must of course be some restrictions, e.g. the person cannot see MR images of you or kill you and look at your spinal cord. But, if you can walk and do most of the functions that a non-spinal-injured person does, then it is likely that you have been

    I had proposed this definition of a "cure" to get around the problem of having to reverse aging and defining "normal" before one can have a "cure". If one defined a cure as a therapy that would return a person back to the state that they were before injury or some arbitrary "normal" state, we would be setting ourselves up for failure because it would require that the treatment can reverse aging. Also, a given person's "normal" is not like others.

    The Turing test has been questioned by some people because it is not so much of a test of the intelligence of the computer but a test of the intelligence of the observer. The observer may not be smart enough to tell that a computer is or is not intelligent.

    So, in order for the "Turing test" of the cure to be valid, one has to assume that the observer is reasonably smart and experienced, the person is not lying, and the observer has access to a reasonably complete and accurate set of information about the person. For example, under most circumstances on this web site, I cannot tell whether a person has had spinal cord injury unless that person described himself or herself accurately and truthfully. But, this seems to be a fairly reasonable requirement. The only category of questions that would be forbidden would be questions like "Do you have spinal cord injury". In other words, the rules of the interaction must be defined (see as it has been for formal Turing tests).

    For more on discussion and definition of the Turing test, please see


    [This message was edited by Wise Young on 05-30-04 at 11:15 AM.]

  2. #2
    So isn't the solution is that if a majority of people can't tell then you're cured?

    I can tell a C8 quad has hand function deficeit when any non-sci would have no clue.

  3. #3
    Senior Member
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    Sacramento, CA, USA
    Dr. Young, I agree with your proposed definition of cure to get around the problem of aging and normality. But what can the casual observer ask about bladder and bowel without being direct? For any cure to be the cure, I think the bladder and bowel have to be voluntarily controlled. Or, maybe it is okay for the casual observer to ask about bladder and bowel function and then opine whether the subject is cured or not. Or, maybe if the casual observer cannot detect that you have been spinal-injured and you have voluntary bladder and bowel control, then you are cured.

  4. #4
    very good post Wise!! (all your posts are good)

    That Turin essay is really interesting - can a machine have intelligence? Can machines think? I like it - 'thinking' and 'intelligence' are two man-made words to describe an abstract function that we know takes place because we experience them but I put it to the jury that noone on the planet knows what they are or how they work so how can we know if machines can do it or animals can do it? maybe they can, maybe they can't. Emotion is part of thinking which I suspect would be quite hard to programme into a machine and PROVE that it really felt it, though almost nothing is impossible.

    Anthropomorphism, (or something), is one of David Attenborough's favourite techniques: cute fury baby birds huddled in a nest with mummy bird, one falls into the water where the piranha are waiting, "the mother grieves for her child" David says.

    Does she? I've always wondered. How does David know this? Has she enough brain cells to spare for this luxury?

    It was announced a few years ago that someone claimed to have built an artificial human brain - I thought how could you build plasticity into a machine? how could you have both electrical and chemical transmission between nerve cells? special materials would be needed which haven't been invented yet.
    So I asked an SCI researcher whether it were possible with current knowledge or technology. The reply was "we don't know how the brain works so it is impossible to build an artificial one."

    As for a cure, I've always liked your definition, Wise. Obviously the way I was able to sprint and run (because I was pretty damn special LOL) are not going to be possible at age 50. But if the third party thought I were an uninjured 50 year old then that is a reasonable definition of a cure, so long as the third party is prepared to follow me into the bathroom and watch me perform my ..... well you know what I mean. And so long as he was prepared to follow me to the local brothel to see if I could do "it."

    Another definition of a cure might be if the first party were satisfied with it - I imagine this would be a much harder one to aim for.

  5. #5
    Great post Chris2. We will likely never be again as we were, but give me something! Let it begin dear God, and we will cross the chasm when we get there.

  6. #6
    cure is cure, full recovery, and this depends for the exercice post-cure, and strong rehabilitation. i compare the recovery for sci to recovery for guillém-barré, depends for strongly rehabilitation. rehab is the key of recovery. electro-stimulation, and other tools will be the second fase of full cure. nobody must forget it.

    excuse my english.

  7. #7
    Did the Wright Brothers understand flight prior to their sortee at Kittyhawk?

    If it looks like a mule, stinks like a mule, carries 100 lbs., etc. (and has 100% mule DNA...)

    Hey, if I can 1) recover 100% sensation; 2) not have to depend on anyone for ADL's; and 3) recover 'normal' sexual function, THEN I'M CURED.

    Was I ever sick?

  8. #8
    Patxi, the reason the Wright brothers had so much faith in their aircraft was that they were the first to create a wind tunnel. This wind tunnel proved that the wing could lift a fixed load given the correct horse power to lift ratio. They worked out the design and went straight to the flight line. We need a wind tunnel / rat trial and then go directly to a clinical human trials flight line. For my sake I'll take a "Wright Flyer" for now and wait for the P51 next year.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Schmeky's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    West Monroe, LA, USA
    The issue is not necessarily what the definition of a cure is, it's when the definition can be realized.

  10. #10

    I wish that what you said were so. I just spent two days at a meeting arguing about "cure" with a bunch of scientists and clinicians who felt that we should not use the word. They have no compunctions about using the word cure to describe cancer therapies and antibiotics. However, they think that the word should not be used because they are not convinced that there will be any therapies that can restore function. It is like deja vu back to the 1980's. I have been too complacent in thinking that most scientists believe that the spinal cord can be regenerated and function can be restored. Anything that is not published in a peer-reviewed journal is regarded to be invalid. People are calling for monkey trials before clinical trials can be started. In my opinion, these kinds of arguments will lead to delays in clinical trial. The definition of cure that everybody can accept is critical for our field. We can then spend our time and effort achieving it rather than defining it.


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