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Cartesian ills

Descartes is still sowing confusion on the hospital ward. Neurologist Adam Zeman believes it is time to transcend the mind-body distinction

By Adam Zeman   February 1996

A young woman in her 20s-call her Jane-is admitted to our neurology ward because she has become weak down one side of her body. Like many such patients she has had some professional contact with medicine: Jane works as an assistant in a nursing home. Diagnoses of stroke, brain tumour and multiple sclerosis have been considered by the first few doctors she has seen. They have also been mooted with her. Anxiety runs high.

As she meets progressively more experienced specialists things fail to add up. Features which would be anticipated in paralysis are absent: Jane’s reflexes, for instances, are…

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