- Do you really have to have a brain? The reason for my
apparently absurd question is the remarkable research conducted at the
University of Sheffield by neurology professor John Lorber.
- When Sheffield's campus doctor was treating one of the
mathematics students for a minor ailment, he noticed that the student's
head was a little larger than normal. The doctor referred the student
to professor Lorber for further examination.
- The student in question was academically bright, had
a reported IQ of 126 and was expected to graduate. When he was examined
by CAT-scan, however, Lorber discovered that he had virtually no brain
- Instead of two hemispheres filling the cranial cavity,
some 4.5 centimetres deep, the student had less than 1 millimetre of cerebral
tissue covering the top of his spinal column. The student was suffering
from hydrocephalus, the condition in which the cerebrospinal fluid, instead
of circulating around the brain and entering the bloodstream, becomes dammed
up inside the brain.
- Normally, the condition is fatal in the first months
of childhood. Even where an individual survives he or she is usually seriously
handicapped. Somehow, though, the Sheffield student had lived a perfectly
normal life and went on to gain an honours degree in mathematics.
- This case is by no means as rare as it seems. In 1970,
a New Yorker died at the age of 35. He had left school with no academic
achievements, but had worked at manual jobs such as building janitor, and
was a popular figure in his neighbourhood. Tenants of the building where
he worked described him as passing the days performing his routine chores,
such as tending the boiler, and reading the tabloid newspapers. When an
autopsy was performed to determine the cause of his premature death he,
too, was found to have practically no brain at all.
- Professor Lorber has identified several hundred people
who have very small cerebral hemispheres but who appear to be normal intelligent
individuals. Some of them he describes as having 'no detectable brain',
yet they have scored up to 120 on IQ tests.
- No-one knows how people with 'no detectable brain' are
able to function at all, let alone to graduate in mathematics, but there
are a couple theories. One idea is that there is such a high level of
redundancy of function in the normal brain that what little remains is
able to learn to deputise for the missing hemispheres. Another, similar,
suggestion is the old idea that we only use a small percentage of our brains
anyway -- perhaps as little a 10 per cent.
- The trouble with these ideas is that more recent research
seems to contradict them. The functions of the brain have been mapped
comprehensively and although there is some redundancy there is also a high
degree of specialisation -- the motor area and the visual cortex being
highly specific for instance. Similarly, the idea that we 'only use 10
per cent of our brain' is a misunderstanding dating from research in the
1930s in which the functions of large areas of the cortex could not be
determined and were dubbed 'silent', when in fact they are linked with
important functions like speech and abstract thinking. The other interesting
thing about Lorber's findings is that they remind us of the mystery of
memory. At first it was thought that memory would have some physical substrate
in the brain, like the memory chips in a PC. But extensive investigation
of the brain has turned up the surprising fact that memory is not located
in any one area or in a specific substrate. As one eminent neurologist
put it, 'memory is everywhere in the brain and nowhere.'
- But if the brain is not a mechanism for classifying and
storing experiences and analysing them to enable us to live our lives then
what on earth is the brain for? And where is the seat of human intelligence?
Where is the mind?
- The only biologist to propose a radically novel approach
to these questions is Dr Rupert Sheldrake. In his book A New Science of
Life Sheldrake rejected the idea that the brain is a warehouse for memories
and suggested it is more like a radio receiver for tuning into the past.
Memory is not a recording process in which a medium is altered to store
records, but a journey that the mind makes into the past via the process
of morphic resonance.
- But, of course, such a crazy idea couldn't possibly be
true, could it?
- Alternative Science Website http://www.AlternativeScience.Com
Copyright Richard Milton © 1992-2002 Winner of more than 70 AWARDS
for site excellence http://www.alternativescience.com/no_brainer.htm