Minister of Science and Chief Protector of the Faith

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hydrocephalous and Consciousness: Is the brain really necessary?


A report from the July 22, 2007 edition of the medical journal The Lancet reported that a seemingly normal 44-year-old man complaining of a pain in his leg was discovered to have a severely distorted brain, due to it being displaced by a build-up of fluid. The man suffered from hydrocephalus, a condition where the cerebrospinal fluid builds up pressure in the skull, deforming the brain. In many cases of hydrocephalus the brain becomes so distorted that all that remains of the cerebral cortex is a thin layer of cells that are only %5 of the normal volume.

The man's MRI scans are shown on the left and you can clearly see that huge sections of the brain are absent. The late neurologist John Lorber studied many cases of hydrocephalus that were even more severe than this one cited in The Lancet, and yet led relatively normal lives. Lorber published his findings in an article titled, "Is the brain really necessary?".

Detractors of Lorber's study claim that Lorber is somehow trying to prove the false notion that we only use 10% of our brain, and call the findings of the study "classic urban myth". This is a strawman argument that does not address the actual evidence of what Lorber's study presents. Note that no real evidence is presented by lorber's detractors, and their statements are based mainly on their opinion of the imaging technology that Lorber had available to him as compared to modern imaging techniques. "He must have read it wrong," is the core of their argument.

In a completely unrelated study, Pediatric Neurologist D Alan Shewmon (Along with Neurologist Paul A Byrne and Neonatologist Gregory L Holmes) published an article in "Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology" called "Consciousness in Congenitally Decorticate Children: 'Developmental Vegetative State' as Self-Fulfilling Prophecy". In this study the authors find that in some cases children that are diagnosed as decorticate (or without a cortex) smile, respond to their name, are fascinated with their reflection a mirror, enjoy and respond to music, etc. One of the children is described as being able to see and respond to visual stimuli, and yet the child has no occipital cortex.

If a decorticate child can respond to stimuli, and even respond to visual stimuli without an occipital cortex, it would seem clear that Lorber's claims are not really all that far fetched. This begs the question, does consciousness reside in the brain?


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At Mon Feb 25, 05:43:00 PM, Blogger Dean Wormer said...

The man's MRI scans are shown on the left and you can clearly see that huge sections of the brain are absent.

Patient X couldn't possibly hail from Crawford, Texas could he?

At Mon Feb 25, 06:48:00 PM, Blogger Freida Bee said...

I love stuff like this! Especially when there are PBS specials about it!

I'll look at the embedded article shortly. Thanks for keepun' us more smarter, Dr. Z. Some of us are encouraged by these findings.

At Tue Feb 26, 04:31:00 AM, Anonymous AgentOrange said...

Is the brain 95% water, or is intracranial fluid 5% brains? Either way the fellow might be well qualified for either a career politics, or the entertainment industry!

At Tue Feb 26, 07:12:00 AM, Blogger Randal Graves said...

Sheesh. Everyone knows we men think with our weenies.

At Tue Feb 26, 10:50:00 PM, Blogger Romius T. said...

Frieda where are the pbs specials? or are there some? Geez this was creepy!

At Wed Feb 27, 04:27:00 AM, Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

Dean Wormer: No, the skull in that picute isn't that empty.

Freida Bee: It's fascinating. Turns science on it's ear.

AgentOrange: Indeed! If the patient is without a brain and a heart, they must be Republican!

Randal Graves: Perhaps, but I have a sneaking suspicion that you think with your sauerkraut.

Romius T.: I don't know of a PBS special on this particular subject, although PBS did run a great series of programs about the brian about 10 years ago.


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