Is your brain really necessary?
This is the title of a famous paper published in the journal Science by Roger Lewin, concerning the research of the late Dr. John Lorber, professor of neurology at the university of Sheffield, UK.
[Roger Lewin (December 12, 1980). “Is Your Brain Really Necessary?” SCIENCE 210 (4475): 1232–1234. doi:10.1126/science.7434023. PMID 7434023]
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 at all. The student had less than 1 millimetre of cerebral tissue lining the skull, a condition called hydrocephalus, in which the cerebrospinal fluid pressurizes and destroys the brain.
Despite no brain, this Sheffield student had lived a perfectly normal life and went on to gain an honors degree in mathematics. His case is by no means as rare as you might think.
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 neighborhood. 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 eventually identified several hundred people who had very little actual brain tissue but who appeared to be normal intelligent individuals. Some of them he described as having ‘no detectable brain’, yet they had scored up to 120 on IQ tests. The orthodox view of brain hegemony can offer no explanation of how people with ‘no detectable brain’ are able to function at all, let alone to graduate in mathematics.
The real truth, of course, is that we are not our brain. At best, the brain functions as a “tuner” to information fields out there in the surroundings. That’s why, when you close your eyes and look at a mental picture, it seems to be outside your head. It is!
Of course the die-hard materialist crackpots cannot accept this. We are just a brain, they say. I call it the thought-from-slime theory. They try to come up with explanations, which themselves raise more issues than they “solve”. 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 deputize 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 as 10 per cent. The trouble with this crackpot explanation is that hydrocephalus cases have a lot less than 10 percent of their brains intact.
What’s more, a normal person uses far more than 10 percent of their brain. The idea that we use only a small portion of our brain is another piece of science bunk, 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.
Moreover, recent research using PET scans for function mapping have shown conclusively that, although there is some redundancy, there is also a high degree of specialization—the motor area and the visual cortex being highly specific for instance.
So How Does Memory Work?
There is still the problem of memory; where is it located? Scientists have virtually abandoned the search for a memory place in the brain. There is no such thing.
In a classic series of experiments in the 1940s and 50s, American psychologist and behaviorist Karl Lashley (1890–1958) cut up brains in animal experiments, to find out exactly what location rats in a maze lost their ability to solve maze puzzles they had learned (memorized). The trouble was, they never did lose their memory, even when virtually every shred of normal brain tissue was removed!
At that time memory was thought to be a physical trace in neurological tissue, which Lashley called an engram (don’t mix this up the L. Ron Hubbard’s bastardization of the term). After years of failure and finally having to admit that memory was nowhere to be found, Lashley published a famous paper entitled “In Search Of The Engram”. [Society of Experimental Biology Symposium 4: 454–482]
The current “explanation” is that memory is not localized but spread diffusely throughout the brain. As one eminent neurologist put it, ‘memory is everywhere in the brain and nowhere.’ But this fails to solve the problem that individuals without any real brain have no memory deficit whatever.
So if the brain is not a mechanism for classifying and storing experiences and analyzing 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?
If you don’t want to go all the way into consciousness as the source of reality and experience, Rupert Sheldrake’s exposition of morphic fields and morphic resonance will probably keep you happy (for now!)
In his book A New Science of Life Sheldrake rejects the idea that the brain is a warehouse for memories and suggests 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. Such a ‘radio’ receiver would require far fewer and less complex structures than a warehouse capable of storing and retrieving a lifetime of data.
The brain is still crucial. Just as you won’t hear any radio programs if you don’t have a radio, you will not connect with the information fields which service your mind, if you don’t have a transducer/receiver.
And that’s why, if you are asking, we need to continue to look after our brains and make sure we keep our tuning apparatus in good form. Neurological health is a necessity, not an option!
The Nun’s Study
A few years ago I read an article about an Alzheimer’s disease study started in 1986, where a population of nuns volunteered for lifelong participation, including giving their brains after death for study. The nuns, among the School Sisters of Notre Dame, were ideal for scientific study because their stable, relatively similar lives preclude certain factors from contributing to illness. They do not smoke, hardly drink and do not experience physical changes related to pregnancy.
Well, what did the researchers actually learn, under Richard Suzman, chief of demography and population epidemiology at the National Institute on Aging, and University of Kentucky scientist David Snowdon? They found that a number of those individuals who had brains that were badly deteriorated, supposedly due to Alzheimer’s, had never exhibited any symptoms of dementia while living.
Why? Because they were educated, active in their work and mental life, watched very little television, and were constantly involved in educational pursuits that expanded their knowledge base well into old age!
In other words, they had never stopped thinking and learning and working with their minds. They were beating the entropy of decay and senility!
Studies Showing Brain Activity In Learning
Those stuck on the thought-from-slime model of consciousness delightedly point to science showing that when neurological pathways are used and re-used, there is reinforcement of learning in the pathway. By some weird logic, they seem to believe this “proves” that all thought is material and takes place in the brain.
It’s just stupid logic. Tuning the brain better to something it wants to learn, of course, makes sense. But that does not in any sense demonstrate that thought lies only within the skull. Does it? I can’t follow the reasoning if it does.
I’m talking about neural plasticity, of course. It’s understood these days that the brain can change, adapt, respond (structurally) to repetitive stimuli. This is like saying a car with worn grooves in the tyres or shock absorbers doesn’t need a driver. The grooves are put there by use and reinforcement of certain movements. So the car driver is “proved” not to exist.
The Pineal Gland
[one of the comments prompted me to add these few words here…]
Don’t just laugh at the orthodox scientists because they will be uncomfortable. This story is also the end of the pineal gland theories, so cherished by the New Agers. The pineal is NOT the seat of consciousness or the “link with the Cosmos”. Such a notion is just another piece of junk science, with no evidence, and is just a myth passed around.
If this has been your belief, then you’ve got to let it go too! The guys without brains have just as much “soul” and spirit as you and me (see next section).