Treating critically ill patients on Mount Everest

Ken Kamler tells an incredible story of collective resilience in the face of one of the most dangerous mountaineering expeditions ever attempted: “I was faced with treating a lot of critically ill patients at 24,000 feet, which was an impossibility.”

Incredible lecture from TEDMED 2009.

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  • Chang Yang

    While the story itself was jaw-dropping and enthralling, there was no scientific merit whatsoever in the presenter’s attempt at demonstrating his mind-waking-the-body postulate. Obviously given the extraordinary circumstance of Beck Weathers’ survival, there is no way we could ever know for sure how it could have happened. However, this doesn’t mean that anyone could just whisk up a hypothesis and throw in a few SPECT pictures and present it as a scientific-sounding hypothesis. Yes he did mention a few times that “if I could do a SPECT this is what we might see”, but he also made rather bold guesses along the line of “at this point, he starts thinking about his family so this is the corresponding SPECT”, or, “at this point, he doesn’t think about his family, and his brain channels the energy to keep him walking”.

    Just HOW did he guess all that?

    This is how TED website billed this talk: “he shares the incredible story of the climbers’ battle against extreme conditions and uses brain imaging technology to map the medical miracle of one man who survived roughly 36 hours buried in the snow.”

    No he DID NOT map the medical miracle – he simply had a guess at the sequence of event with some tinge of poetry mixed in between. In all likelihood this was probably done for pragmatic reasons, for who would want to listen to an exciting medical miracle only to conclude with a curt “well we don’t know what happened, thank you for listening”. However, given that the concept of “mental will” is still not correlated to any neurobiological function, it is quite academically irresponsible for him to have presented the way he did and to give the impression that it’s a well-founded hypothesis by a health professional. In any case, to attribute “will power” to Beck Weathers’ survival could be rather insulting to the others who have perished in similar situations – are we then saying that people who perished had weaker will?

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