No Jokes, Please

By way of my friend Eugene Jen comes a remarkable story: a civil servant with practically no brain. Have a look here.

I’ve heard of cases like this before. What I’m curious about — and I hope someone is going to look into this — is how the various functional parts are represented, how such a brain actually works. A study using a PET scan or fMRI would be most interesting, I would think.

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20 Comments

  1. I once read about a man with an IQ of about 125 who had almost no brain.

    Ah, here is one report on that.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 4:37 am | Permalink
  2. Jenn says

    The character “Forrest Gump” had an I.Q. of 75.

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 7:58 am | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Hi Jeffery,

    These cases, if they are actually as reported, need some serious investigation. Do these brains have the functional parts that normal ones do, but just in a different physical arrangement? The heads of hydrocephalus patients are usually larger than normal; is it that the customary brain apparatus can be distributed over the larger area available on the inner surface of the hydrocephalic skull? Or is there really almost nothing there? What is such a brain doing when engaged in normal cognitive activity, compared with the well-studied patterns of excitation that occur in normal brains?

    If it really is possible to have a mind with essentially no brain, that is, of course, an enormously significant result, and would send major tremors across the landscape of cognitive neuroscience, not to mention philosophy of mind (and any number of other fields as well).

    One would think that the neuroscientists must be rolling up their sleeves here, because if these accounts are true, any science of mind must accommodate them. I wonder what they are saying and doing about it.

    Perhaps this can drive us toward a sort of Michelson-Morley moment for the study of consciousness.

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 10:17 am | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Jenn,

    No underachiever, that Gump.

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 10:18 am | Permalink
  5. Kevin Kim says

    I find myself extremely disturbed by the picture in that article, and have been back to it several times just to stare, and then stare some more.

    I have you and Eugene to thank for that.

    Kevin

    PS: I had a CAT scan done when I was a kid, and unless things have changed since then, my brain fills my cranium.

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 11:14 am | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    It is a little strange.

    What if everything we know is wrong?

    Just kidding. But it wants explaining.

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 11:16 am | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    I want also to find out what the peer review of the Lorber cases has been like. This blog post suggests that there might have been a little exaggeration there.

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 11:23 am | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Kevin,

    When I was a kid they didn’t even even have CAT scans. Nowadays, of course, there is an enormous range of technologies for peering into the body.

    Which proves the old adage that there’s more than one way to scan a CAT.

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 11:26 am | Permalink
  9. Kevin Kim says

    Groan…

    Wasn’t the title of this post “No Jokes, Please”?

    Kevin

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 11:28 am | Permalink
  10. Malcolm says

    Oops! – you’re right. So sorry; a fine example I’m setting.

    Do forgive me. Don’t know what got into my head.

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 11:31 am | Permalink
  11. bob koepp says

    When I asked a neurologist about this image and the associated report, I was told that “most likely” the functional brain was mostly present, but very much compressed. This seems to be the view of the blogger at decorabilia pointed to by Malcolm.

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says

    Hi Bob,

    I imagine that this must be what had happened, especially as these cases of hydrocephalus occur early in life, when the brain is particularly plastic.

    Closer examination, with modern tools, of how these brains are working (and where the various normal brain structures are displaced to in these cases) would be worth doing, I should think. I wonder if anyone is actually making such inquiries.

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  13. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – I certainly hope that this anomaly will be carefully studied. It’s often clues from oddities that help us to grasp “normality.”

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    It’s also the sort of thing that dualists of all stripes pounce upon eagerly, understandably enough. And if these brains are not just rearrangements of normal brains, and don’t have any of the usual brain structures, then they have a fair point. So I am very curious to hear more about what’s going on in these cases.

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 1:38 pm | Permalink
  15. Well, we’re learning about all sorts of amazing things that lower animals can do with their tiny brains — including extremely smart spiders — so I’m assuming that the brains of these unusual individuals have all of the working parts but little redundancy. They can therefore lose it in a blink, whereas most of us have a lot more to fall back on.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 6:20 pm | Permalink
  16. Malcolm says

    Curious, though, that if one can get by with much less, that brains are normally as whopping as they are. What justifies the cost?

    I wonder what the actual differences are between these folks and the rest of us, both in brain-tissue mass and in functional capabilities. There may be cognitive deficits that go unnoticed. I also wonder whether the tissues themselves are significantly different in some way: more tightly packed, somehow, or something.

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 6:30 pm | Permalink
  17. Perhaps the redundancy itself would justify the cost. It would allow even those who’ve lost as much brain matter as these folks seem to have lost to continue functioning.

    But I do wonder about those cognitive deficits. With less brain matter, are these people lacking in such things as creativity, insight, depth of thought, or whatever?

    A lot of unanswered questions…

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    Posted July 24, 2007 at 7:12 pm | Permalink
  18. eugene says

    What I feel interesting when I read the news from New Scientist through reddit is “What is the difference between this case and the other situation such as brain hit by stroke, tumor and Alzheimer’s? Most victims of stroke, the brain just can’t redistribute their functions to the remain system, victims of tumor suffer hallucinations, victim of Syphilis suffered from conscious loss such as like moral centers, While in this case, the person can function pretty well even not full of the human potential, but he can getting by than all other victims of brain malfunctioning.

    Maybe one reason to support more affordable health care systems is that we can collect more raw data to create a Google Brain Map for everyone’s brain and his/her behavior pattern and we can play some data mining algorithms to see what is correlated statistically. If we can have a system to view the 6 to 12 billion brains in the world, it is possible we can find more cases just like this case for study.

    But I know economically, morally and politically the above idea is a dead one. Unless we are in the brave new world style technocratic dystopia. Beside I wonder how many people want to see brain scan of GWB and DC to have a deep insight of their “Master Mind”.

    Posted July 25, 2007 at 1:05 am | Permalink
  19. Malcolm says

    I like the way you think, Eugene.

    Posted July 25, 2007 at 1:32 am | Permalink
  20. JK says

    Hey Malcolm,

    While each of my former spouses confirmed that “he has no brain to speak of” no CAT scans nor MRI’s were done to support their conclusions. Be that as it may.

    http://www.twistedphysics.typepad.com/page/2/

    the entry for April 3rd.

    JK

    Posted April 29, 2008 at 11:38 pm | Permalink