Brain damage can cause massive changes in consciousness levels. From a clinical and ethical point of view it is desirable to assess the level of residual consciousness in unresponsive patients. However, no direct measure of consciousness exists, so we run into the philosophical problem of other minds. Neurologists often make implicit use of a Turing test-like procedure in an attempt to gain access to damaged minds, by monitoring and interpreting neurobehavioral responses. New brain imaging techniques are now being developed that permit communication with unresponsive patients, using their brain signals as carriers of messages relating to their mental states. © The Author(s) 2009.