Well, what about pain?...
June 28, 2003 10:00 AM   Subscribe

No Brainer - I've eaten a lot of Tofu in my day and was concerned about "brain-shrink". Then I found about this, and stopped worrying - Is your brain really necessary? Apparently not:

"...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." I'm hungry...where's that tofu?...
posted by troutfishing (48 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's not the size that counts, it's how you use it!
posted by troutfishing at 10:02 AM on June 28, 2003

Is this actually true?
posted by mckayc at 10:16 AM on June 28, 2003

More here.
posted by Zurishaddai at 10:24 AM on June 28, 2003

troutfishing, very strange, very interesting, good post. But... minor quibble: all three links go to essentially the same information with the last simply a site that reprinted the article from the first (or vice versa) and so in no way adds credibility to the story, if that was your intention. Simply wastes an interested MeFites time.
posted by billsaysthis at 10:26 AM on June 28, 2003

seems to be. These cases are extremely rare - but certainly interesting. Reminds me a bit of how doctors were realizing that certain parts of the stomach are kind of a second brain - I wonder if some of these cases without much brain in the head somehow adapted other areas of the nervous system to act as the center.
posted by mdn at 10:27 AM on June 28, 2003

after reading this this image immediately came to mind...

homer's brain
posted by birdherder at 10:37 AM on June 28, 2003

"The young man continues a normal life with the exception of his knowledge that he has no brain."

How is it even possible to live normally after being informed that you have no brain?
posted by spazzm at 10:50 AM on June 28, 2003

spazzm - !

Billsaysthis - OK, you have a point there.
posted by troutfishing at 10:54 AM on June 28, 2003

How is it even possible to live normally after being informed that you have no brain?

The President seems to carry on. (zing)
posted by inksyndicate at 11:07 AM on June 28, 2003

*puffs the billy clint*

heh. um, what were we talking about?
posted by mcsweetie at 11:11 AM on June 28, 2003

Colour me skeptical; it would be nice to see a proper paper in a peer reviewed journal with all the results. As mentioned in one of the articles, CAT scans aren't all that good and MRI would be better. Of course, the best solution would be to do a post-mortem examination but we might have to wait a while for that. If this report turns out to be true, however, it would be incredibly interesting and we'd have to rethink a lot of current neuroscience and psychology; sure, the brain is plastic and redundant, but I'm not sure if it's *that* redundant.
posted by adrianhon at 11:17 AM on June 28, 2003

I was under the impression that hydrocephaly compresses the brain due to the pressure of the water. If true, this would imply that the individual in question HAS all of his brain, just that the cortex is squished flat against his skull.

...so it still might work relatively normally. Maybe, anyhow.
posted by aramaic at 11:17 AM on June 28, 2003

it would be nice to see a proper paper in a peer reviewed journal with all the results

Well, the linked story cites Roger Lewin, "Is Your Brain Really Necessary?" Science, 210:1232, 1980.
posted by Zurishaddai at 11:40 AM on June 28, 2003

it would be nice to see a proper paper in a peer reviewed journal with all the results

Well, the linked story cites Roger Lewin, "Is Your Brain Really Necessary?" Science, 210:1232, 1980.

well, it would be nice to see how this guy is doing 23 years later. i would think this would be the kind of case that people scientists would want to track over time.

--or did he keel over and die once he realized he was brainless??
posted by birdherder at 11:52 AM on June 28, 2003

"people scientists?" good god what has happened to my ability to catch that type of error in preview? maybe i don't have a brain?
posted by birdherder at 11:54 AM on June 28, 2003

How is it even possible to live normally after being informed that you have no brain?

It's just like in the Wizard of Oz -- you substitute a diploma.

And you smack down any assertions to the contrary by laying some serious differential algebraic topology down on the critics a**. Word.
posted by weston at 12:04 PM on June 28, 2003

Zurishaddai: I just downloaded that 1980 Science paper; it has exactly the same text as the link you mentioned earlier and as such, it isn't a proper research paper - it's a news article. I had a quick look through Lorber's publications and found this one, which unfortunately is not available online but would appear to support this news article. There appear to be others as well. Lorber died a few years ago, incidentally.

A quick PubMed search reveals that people are still investigating the effects of hydrocephalus on intelligence and from what I gathered, it caused the vast majority of sufferers to have impairments in IQ; of course, the point is that some of them may inexplicably have above-average intelligence. It doesn't seem as if many people are looking at that particular issue though - I suspect this is due to the difficulty of diagnosing relevant individuals and also conducting a decent study with an adequate sample size.
posted by adrianhon at 12:40 PM on June 28, 2003

adrianhon - re: "As mentioned in one of the articles, CAT scans aren't all that good and MRI would be better." - they could just trepann them (drill a hole through the skull) and peek in. It might help relieve some of the fluid pressure too, and so maybe the squished, or pressurized tiny brain would suddenly inflate to it's fully majestic size!

The advertising - to find appropriate individuals for such a study - would be fun - "Are you brainless? Have you always felt that something was missing but didn't know quite what?........If this is you, you may qualify for a free medical assesment and paid clinical study of the functional brainless.....Call 1-800-NOO-BRAIN today for further details...."

"If I didn't have a brain"*

"If my cranium were hollow
I'd have no plans for to follow
So I'd stand out in the rain.......

All the world would be astounding,
as I shuffled, slowly drowning
If I didn't have a brain!"

Oh, I could tell you why
My feet were on the floor,
I could drool and walk right smack into door
Then I'd forget.......and
do it once more....

I could watch some television
and gape, slack jawed, no derision
at the President....no pain!

They could analyze the budget
and I'd bellow "Ooomphaludgit!"
If I didn't have a brain!"

*sung to the tune of If I only Had a Brain", from "The Wizard of Oz"
posted by troutfishing at 1:22 PM on June 28, 2003 [1 favorite]

This is where the expression "you only use 9/10ths of your brain" comes from, btw.

However, and this is an important point, This was a rare and exceptional case. And he didn't lose any of his brain, he never had it. When your brain shrinks, you become stupid.
posted by delmoi at 2:51 PM on June 28, 2003

I went to the home page of the site originally posted.

They also have a link to an article about people who live without actually eating.

Boy, we mefites sure are gullible on weekends. Don't you think if anything like this were actually true we'd have heard about it before now?
posted by konolia at 3:11 PM on June 28, 2003

This is absurd. As James Randi says, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:23 PM on June 28, 2003

I've heard of it before now. There was a television show about it a few years ago. Alas, I cannot remember the name of the show--all I remember is it profiled several people who had hydrocephalous and very small brains, but were all of average or above average intelligence. I wish I remembered more about it.
posted by Badmichelle at 3:25 PM on June 28, 2003

At this point I'm laughing so hard at the comments here that I don't care if it's true or not. Thanks, troutfishing, this made my day. And my brain's.
posted by jokeefe at 3:27 PM on June 28, 2003

Oddly enough, I was watching a documentary about a Yorkshire woman in the same position last night.

It emerged that she has perfectly normal brain mass.

The pressure from the fluid means her braincase is somewhat enlarged. Although her brain is thinly spread, it covers her entire braincase (including the little "heel" at the bottom), and it is sufficiently thick that she has about 2000cc of brain - it's just very weirdly distributed in an abnormally large cranium. So despite being told all her life that she had only 15% of normal brain mass, in fact it was bollocks - the people who said that hadn't taken the shape of her cranium into account (and in fairness, didn't have the technology 20 years ago to measure brain mass accurately either).

And you know, that makes a shitload more sense to me.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:31 PM on June 28, 2003

when I say "it was bollocks", I am not in fact referring to her skull contents
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:32 PM on June 28, 2003

jokeefe - your welcome, and it actually is probably true, oh you Konolias and Pretty_Generics of little faith!

Here is the CV of the late ("highly esteemed") nuerologist John Lorber. He had a prize named after him in his honor, The Lorber Prize, and here's the obituary of Lorber's research colleague

Lorber apparently used to cite the "No Brainer" case in public addresses to professionals in the field: "Professor John Lorber has a facility for making doctors sit up and think about hallowed concepts," writes Adrian Bower, a neuroanatomist at Sheffield University, England, where Lorber holds a research chair in pediatrics. "The human brain is the current object of his challenging speculation," continues Bower,referring to his colleague's recent propositions concerning hydrocephallis, or water on the brain. For instance, Lorber was not jesting totally when he addressed a conference of pediatricians with a paper entitled "Is your brain really necessary?" Lorber believes that his observations on a series of hydrocephalics who have severely reduced brain tissue throws into question many traditional notions about the brain, both in clinical and scientific terms."

His work with neonatal nueral tube defects is cited here

Here is another writeup on the case by Paul Pietsch, a researcher at the University of Indiana who also does wierd brain research

Here is some more potentially worthwhile info on the subject from a somewhat dubious source

Here, the story pops up for discussion on Ray Kurzweill's busy little web site

OK, enough already. I think I've made my point.
posted by troutfishing at 4:33 PM on June 28, 2003

But now that Joe's spleen has said it's piece about the documentary he was watching (above comment, before my last one), well.........now I'm wondering myself.

Still, Lorber was a specialist in neural tube defects (the class of defect which causes hydrocephaly, the culprit behind the alleged wee brains) and he thought it was real......
posted by troutfishing at 6:26 PM on June 28, 2003

You know, if this does turn out to be true-it will go a long way towards explaining what goes on in metatalk.
posted by konolia at 7:07 PM on June 28, 2003

konolia - you know, given that modern medical practices now intercept the vast majority of foetuses with neural tube defects, I'm afraid that the "tiny brain" population is shrinking rapidly, since they are no longer being created. The hydrocephalic conditions which once killed the vast bulk of those so afflicted are now addressed before thay can create such exotic "wee brain" subtypes.

So the "Is your brain really necessary?" question may recede into myth and folklore, into the realms of New Age teachings and Creationist dictums. What a shame.

Willow the wisp.
posted by troutfishing at 8:30 PM on June 28, 2003

And one more thing - I once went for years without eating.......well, OK, I had two communion wafers a day...
Wafers, my ASS. They were like pizzas I'd say....
posted by troutfishing at 8:39 PM on June 28, 2003

OK, I had two communion wafers a day...
Wafers, my ASS. They were like pizzas I'd say....

They'd get more communicants with pizza. And if you put anchovies on it (which one should never do, because... damn.), it would also remind one's bad self of the Loaves and Fishes business.

Especially if there was only one visible pizza that the priest consecrated but then he pulled out a whole bunch of 'za.

Church "back home" in Chapel Hill had yummy honey-wheat Jesus. Much better than dry styrofoamy Jesus.

Also, while semi-brainless people is a weird idea, it's not as weird as the people who have to have hemispherectomies or who have their bits-that-connect-the-hemispheres sliced so that their right and left brains can know different things.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:31 PM on June 28, 2003

IIRC, French writer Anatole France had the smallest brain ever measured...and it didn't seem to get in the way of his Nobel.
posted by Vidiot at 12:14 AM on June 29, 2003

Troutfishing: I'm not sure what your point is. Lorber may have done a lot of good and interesting research, and I agree that he probably wasn't making this up, but that doesn't exclude the possibility that he was mistaken; perhaps the tissue was compressed, perhaps the brain mass was not accurately measured, perhaps the patients had some hidden cognitive deficit, perhaps the CAT scans were not accurate enough - we don't know and we probably never will because it doesn't appear if he wrote up the results properly. We will just have to wait until someone repeats the experiment.

Maybe Lorber is right. I would be very happy to admit I'm wrong given some convincing evidence, but I find that very unlikely since his findings fly in the face of a great deal of other evidence.
posted by adrianhon at 12:38 AM on June 29, 2003

Church "back home" in Chapel Hill had yummy honey-wheat Jesus

Protestants don't believe in transubstantiation. To us communion is symbolic.

Do we HAVE to be snarky about Jesus here? (altho I am pretty sure there will be pizza in heaven if we want it. And chocolate, of course.)
posted by konolia at 3:21 AM on June 29, 2003

Of course we can be snarky about Jesus. We don't beleive in him. Why should beleivers be upset about this? Faith transcends snarkiness, surely.

I'm rather puzzled by the constant statement that this man had 'no brain'. He most certainly did have a brain. "How is it even possible to live normally after being informed that you have no brain?" is a totally redundant question.
posted by chrid at 5:47 AM on June 29, 2003

As far as I can tell, the whole point of this story is designed to give religious people another thing to knock over the heads of those people who don't believe. It's one of those facts (which include - "what about the fact that they found the Ark" and "what about the scientific study that proved prayer helps sick people get better") that is successfully used at partys to "prove" the existence of a god / a soul / nature spirits / etc.

To which I say... Utter unsubstantiated rubbish. And it proves nothing, apart from the fact that scientists can be as gullible as the rest of us.

Oh - And I sometimes mutter on about Poppler. Even though I know nothing about him, or how his teachings may help my argument.
posted by seanyboy at 6:05 AM on June 29, 2003

Seanyboy - re: "....Utter unsubstantiated rubbish."; actually quite the opposite, as you'll see if read this (very long) post of mine. It contains a large bulk of the text from Roger Lewin's Science article on Lorber's claims and his research. As a rule, material is not published in Science if it is not credible, for the magazine is one of the flagship publications of the english speaking scientific world - so reputations are at stake.

Adrianhon, my point really was to address those comments in this thread - not yours, actually, so I shouldn't have addressed you personally - which treated the story as fringe lunatic material when, in fact, Lorber has his supporters and detracters in the medical community. But, as the Science article notes, the Medical literature is replete with anecdotal accounts:

" "Scores of similar accounts litter the medical literature, and they go back along way," observes Patrick Wall, professor of anatomy at University College, London, "but the important thing about Lorber is that he's done a long series of systematic scanning, rather than just dealing with anecdotes. He has gathered a remarkable set of data and he challenges, 'How do we explain it?' "

Experimental research on cats cited in the article seem to support some of Lober's claims. I would also note that Lorber studied hydrocephalic conditions probably more extensively than anyone in the world, before or since.

I think that what really underlies the whole controversy - and what probably drove Lorber to employ some hyperbole in scandalizing the medical community with his "virtually no detectable brain" statements or his stock "Is your brain really necessary" lectures - was the tendency, in the medical community and elsewhere, to marginalize anomalous observed phenomenon, to shove such troubling stuff into a closet where it can be safely ignored.

There was a whole slew of such anomalous material, preceding probably even the extensive observations of Goethe, which was ignored for years until it was exhumed by mathematicians such as Mandelbrot; these observed anomalies led mathematicians along the trail to the development of "Chaos Theory" (or the mathematics of nonlinear equations, to use a less charged term for the now sprawling field).

Paul Pietsch, at U. Indiana, has done quite a bit of research into another such anomalous, fascinating ( or infuriating ) phenomenon (see Shufflebrain

Another anomaly probably far more contentious than Lorber's "wee-brain/no-brain" observations - The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab, which seems to be conducting empirically rigorous studies demonstrating a slight but consistently detectable Psi (mind over matter at a distance) effect.

And then there are Rupert Sheldrake's fields of "Morphic Resonance" . I'm not sure what to think of these.....it can take a lot of time, in some cases, to parse the legitimately anomalous from the merely cranky, tin-foil-hat material. ( But my dogs do seem to know when my wife is on her way home. Habituation?......... )

Oddly, the sarcastic conjecture I made about the "squished" brains "inflating" when holes are drilled in hydrocephalic patient's heads are correct......sort of (this happens with the installation of a shunt, see below)

The below text is from Roger Lewin's Science story on Lorber's claims. Lorber himself acknowledges that the "Virtually no brain" claim was hyperbolic: " As to the question "Is your brain really necessary?" Lorber admits that it is only half serious. "You have to be dramatic in order to make people listen," "

So Lorber used the tongue-in-cheek hyperbole to shock the medical community. He didn't intend it as a strict scientific claim.

"... (source of quotes below) this case is nothing new to the medical world. "Scores of similar accounts litter the medical literature, and they go back along way," observes Patrick Wall, professor of anatomy at University College, London, "but the important thing about Lorber is that he's done a long series of systematic scanning, rather than just dealing with anecdotes. He has gathered a remarkable set of data and he challenges, 'How do we explain it?'........ Lorber came to make his observations on hydrocephalus through his involvement with assessment and treatment of spina bifida, a congenital condition in which the spinal column fails to fuse completely, leaving nerve tissue perilously exposed. The great majority of patients with spina bifida also suffer from hydrocephalus. 

  Although the origins of hydrocephalus are to some degree shrouded in mystery, it is clearly associated with a disturbance of the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid through a system of channels and reservoirs, or ventricles, in the brain. Back pressure apparently develops, and this may balloon the ventricles to many times their normal size, so pressing the overlying brain tissue against the cranium. In young children, whose skulls are still malleable, one obvious consequence can be a grossly enlarged head. Additionally, this physical assault from within leads to a real loss of brain matter. It is therefore not surprising that many hydrocephalics suffer intellectual and physical disabilities. What is surprising, however, is that a substantial proportion of patients appear lo escape functional impairment in spile of grossly abnormal brain structure. "The spina bifida unit at the Children's Hospital here in Sheffield is one of the largest in the world," explains Lorber, "and this gives us an opportunity to make many observations. Since the introduction of the safe, noninvasive brain scanning technique just a few years ago we have done more than 600 scans on patients with hydrocephalus." Lorber divides the subjects into four categories :those with minimally enlarged ventricles; those whose ventricles fill 50 to 70 percent of the cranium; those in which the ventricles fill between 70 and 90 percent of the intracranial space; and the most severe group, in which ventricle expansion fills 95 percent of the cranium. Many of the individuals in this last group, which forms just less than 10 percent of the total sample, are severely disabled, but half of them have IQ's greater than 100. This group provides some of the most dramatic examples of apparently normal function against all odds. Commenting on Lorber's work, Kenneth Till, a former neurosurgeon at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, London, has this to say: "Interpreting brain scans can be very tricky. There can be a great deal more brain tissue in the cranium than is immediately apparent." Till echoes the cautions of many practitioners when he says, "Lorber may be being rather overdramatic when he says that someone has 'virtually no brain.' " Lorber acknowledges the problem of interpretation of brain scans, and he counters Till's remarks by insisting, "Of course these results are dramatic, but they're not overdramatic. One would not make the claim if one did not have the evidence." 

  A major obstacle in this work is the difficulty of obtaining the kind of quantitative data that would be expected in a scientific investigation of, say. rat brains. "I can't say whether the mathematics student has a brain weighing 50 grams or 150 grams, but it's clear that it is nowhere near the normal 1.5 kilograms," asserts Lorber, "and much of the brain he does have is in the more primitive deep structures that are relatively spared in hydrocephalus." 

  Lorber concludes from these observations that "there must be a tremendous amount of redundancy or spare capacity in the brain, just as there is with kidney and liver." He also contends that "the cortex probably is responsible for a great deal less than most people imagine." These are two areas of considerable dispute in neurobiology. Wall lends support for this second point. "One reason why results such as Lorber's have been neglected for so long is because of the implied attack on the predominance of the cerebral cortex," suggests Wall. "For hundreds of years neurologists have assumed that all that is dear to them is performed by the cortex, but it may well be that the deep structures in the brain carry out many of the functions assumed to be the sole province of the cortex." He likens the cortex to a "reference library" that may be consulted from time to time.

  Norman Geschwind, a neurologist at the Beth Israel Hospital, Boston, strikes a different note. "Deep structures in the brain are undoubtedly important for many functions," he agrees, "but I don't believe the explanation that the cortex does far less than we think is very sound." And neither does David Bowsher, professor of neurophysiology at Liverpool University, England: "I don't think we attribute more to the cortex than it deserves." Bower, however, takes the middle ground, with the suggestion that "the deep structures are almost certainly more important than is currently thought." 

  On the question of the brain's spare capacity there is equal contention. "To talk of redundancy in the brain is an intellectual cop-out to try to get round something you don't understand," states Wall. Geschwind agrees: "Certainly the brain has a remarkable capacity for reassigning functions following trauma, but you can usually pick up some kind of deficit with the right tests, even after apparently full recovery." However, Colin Blakemore. professor of physiology at Oxford University, England, sees spare capacity as an important quality of the human brain. "The brain frequently has to cope with minor lesions and it's crucial that it can overcome these readily," he says, "there may be some reorganization of brain tissue, but mostly there's a reallocation offunction." 

  It is perhaps significant that many of the instances in which gross enlargement of cerebral ventricles is compatible with normal life are cases where the condition develops slowly. Gross surgical lesions in rat brains are known to inflict severe functional disruption, but if the same damage is done bit by bit over a long period of time, the dysfunction can be minimal. Just as the rat brains appear to cope with a stepwise reduction of available hardware, so too do the human brains in some cases of hydrocephalus.
  Another subgroup of some curiosity in Lorber's subjects are those people in whom expansion of the ventricles is restricted to just one side of the brain. "I've now seen more than 50 cases of asymmetric hydrocephalus," says Lorber, "and the interesting thing is that only at minority of these individuals show the expected and long-cherished neurological finding of paralysis with spasticity on the opposite side of the body." To make matters even more puzzling, one individual in the group has enormously enlarged ventricles on the same side as his spastic paralysis. "This is exactly the opposite to all that we learnt in medical school," reports Lorber with obvious glee. These observations are cogent support for Bower's comment that "the concept of contalateral control is the least secure of all our concepts about brain organization and function."

  Lorber's extensive series of brain scans stands in marked contrast with the dearth of information on the fine structure of hydrocephalic human brains. "It is crucial to know about the histological state of the brains of these functionally normal hydrocephalic patients," remarks Lorber, "but how am I to have access to such material, given the ethical barriers to scientific research on patients?" Inadequate though it is, the next best thing is experimental work on animals.
  A group of researchers based at the New York University Medical Center has assembled a picture of the histological changes associated with hydrocephalus through experimental induction of the condition in cats. The group also observed the changes in tissue structure following the implantation of a shunt, the experimental equivalent to the normal treatment of hydrocephalus in humans. Speaking for the group, Fred Epstein says the following: "Hydrocephalus is principally a disease of the white matter. As the ventricles enlarge the layers of fibers above them begin to be stretched and very quickly they are disrupted, with the axons and the myelin sheaths surrounding them breaking down. Even in severe and extended hydrocephalus, however, the nerve cells in the gray matter were remarkably spared, though eventually there began to be a loss here too." The sparing of the gray matter even in severe hydrocephalus could go some way to explaining the remarkable retention of many normal functions in severely affected individuals.
  Crucial to the approach to treatment of hydrocephalus is the brain's ability to recuperate following the release of fluid pressure when a shunt is implanted. One of the canons of neurobiology is that, once damaged, cells in the central nervous system are unable to repair themselves. Does Lorber's work dent this hallowed concept too? "When you implant a shunt in a young hydrocephalic child you often see complete restoration of overall brain structure, even in cases where initially there is no detectable mantle," claims Lorber. "There must be true regeneration of brain substance in some sense, but I'm not necessarily saying that nerve cells regenerate," he says cautiously; "I don't think anyone knows fully about that."
  What, then, is happening when a hy drocephalic brain rebounds from being a thin layer lining a fluid-filled cranium to become an apparently normal structure when released from hydrostatic pressure? According to Epstein and on the basis of his colleagues' observations on experimental cats, the term rebound aptly describes the reconstitution process, with stretched fibers shortening, thus diminishing the previously expanded ventricular space. Within a short time scar tissue forms, constructed from the glial cells that pack between the nerve cells. "The reconstitution of the mantle," report Epstein and his colleagues, "does not result in the reformation of lost elements, but rather in the formation of aglial scar and possibly a return to function of the remaining elements."

  Lorber claims that his observations on the dramatic recovery of severely affected young children imply that "clinicians shouldn't give up in the face of an apparently hopeless case; a shunt operation at an early stage has a good chance of producing a normal individual." In mild cases, or ones that develop slowlyand late, Lorber takes a different approach. Citing the example of the mathematics student and others like him, he proposes that perhaps the surgical knife should be stayed, "because a shunt operation makes an individual forever dependent on surgical care, and in any case many of these subjects can lead perfectly normal lives." The difference is between the acute and chronic conditions. 

  These statements are certain net lo go unchallenged, partly because there is a multiplicity of opinions about appropriate treatment of hydrocephalus and partly because it is Lorber who is making them. Lorber is no stranger to controversy. Just a few years ago he caused a storm in the medical world by suggesting that it is not always medically right to administer extensive treatment to some infants with spina bifida. His experience had taught him that the consequences in some severe cases were simply not tolerable, either to the patient or to the immediate family. This position continues to be hotly debated, but Lorber's ideas are beginning to receive favorable consideration, particularly in the United Kingdom .

  What of the Lorber approach to hydrocephalus? "His attitude is based on many years of clinical experience," says Gerald Hochwald of New York University Medical Center, "and it contains a certain amount of value." Thomas Milhorat, a neurosurgeon at the Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C., voices strong support for Lorber, in spite of many differences of opinion. "I'm glad there's a John Lorber," says Milhorat;"he could be more moderate in the way he expresses things, but a moderate view would not emerge if someone were not speaking out strongly."

  As to the question "Is your brain really necessary?" Lorber admits that it is only half serious. "You have to be dramatic in order to make people listen,"concedes the tactician. Bower's answer to the tongue-in-cheek question is this: "Although Lorber's work doesn't demonstrate that we don't need a brain, it does show that the brain can work in conditions we would have thought impossible." Bower occasionally complains that Lorber's style is less scientific than it might be. He concedes, however, that "there are still many questions to be answered about the human brain, and it has to be admitted that Lorber's provocative approach does make you think about them."


Aw hell. I've done it again. I need to get me a blog of my own.
posted by troutfishing at 8:45 AM on June 29, 2003

You have to be dramatic in order to make people listen

Or to make people think you are less credible. Hyperbole makes research smell suspicious.
posted by moonbiter at 9:10 AM on June 29, 2003

Protestants don't believe in transubstantiation. To us communion is symbolic.

You forgot the "Some" at the beginning. T'was a protestant church, and mostly believed that it was something more than merely symbolic.

Do we HAVE to be snarky about Jesus here?

I dunno. Ask someone who was being snarky.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:24 AM on June 29, 2003

A phat CPU only gets you so far, what's really important is the software you're running on it.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 12:14 PM on June 29, 2003

You forgot the "Some" at the beginning

Sorry, thought that transubstantiation was a Catholic doctrine exclusively.

Do you know that people used to get burned at the stake over this very issue? Ridiculous, isn't it?
posted by konolia at 1:27 PM on June 29, 2003

Konolia - they used to find all sorts of reasons for burning people at the stake in the Middle Ages - weren't public burnings, torture, drawing and quartering, and so on considered fun, recreational events - sort of like contemporary World Wrestling Federation events or American monster truck rallies?

One more note: while I was looking for additional material on the Lorber story, a lot of sites by people I think of as cranks - "Creation Research" folks, and so on - popped up.

They seemed to like the Lorber story because they misunderstood what he was saying due to his toungue-in-cheek hyperbole. They almost seemed to think he was saying that you could just open up someone's head and scoop out their brain whole - with no effect at all on the "patient/victim's" ability to function.

[ Don't try this at home, folks. ]

They liked that idea because it would imply that whatever animates us was non-corporeal.

Here's another article with a bit of additional info on the Lorber story:

"Skeptics have claimed that it was an error of interpretation of the scans themselves. Lorber himself admits that reading a CAT scan can be tricky. He also has said that one would not make such a claim without evidence.

In answer to attacks that he has not precisely quantified the amount of brain tissue missing, he adds, "I can't say whether the mathematics student has a brain weighing 50 grams or 150 grams, but it is clear that it is nowhere near the normal 1.5 kilograms." "

The "Lorber Problem" is now taken quite seriously by neurologists in the sense that is now taken for granted that there is massive overcapacity built into the human brain.

So why the extra brain capacity? In this this review of a competing hypothesis, suggest that "the explanation for the evolutionary expansion of the human brain in fact lies far away, in the need to have a brain that could continue to function into old age.....

Skoyles argues reasonably that if the extra brain mass does not contribute to general intelligence, it must contribute to something else that is evolutionarily advantageous. His favoured candidate for this something else is expertise. Others, including myself, have made alternative suggestions, such as that extra capacity is required for the development of specialisms such as social skill, or language, or reflexive consciousness (reviewed in Mithen, 1994). Calvin, coming at the problem from a different angle, has proposed that a huge increase in raw computing power was needed for humans to be able throw projectiles to hit small targets (Calvin, 1983)."
posted by troutfishing at 2:50 PM on June 29, 2003

Oops, typo - that was "Nicholas Humphrey suggests......"
posted by troutfishing at 2:52 PM on June 29, 2003

Interesting, speaking as someone who has had hydrocephalus since birth. And a normal-sized brain, so they tell me. No corpus callosum, though. I can't figure that one out myself, but it happens.
posted by emelenjr at 5:29 PM on June 29, 2003

Okay, I'm trying to imagine what's up with the optic nerve in these cases. Are they stringing Cat5 from eyeball to the top of the spinal column? What gives?
posted by NortonDC at 7:01 PM on June 29, 2003

emelenjr - redundancy? - obviously the human brain isn't so specialized that it can't rewire itself from birth to compensate for this sort of thing. Getting an iron pole through one's head, later on in life, like poor Phineas Gage seems to be a far more serious problem.

NortonDC - You got me. Wi-Fi?
posted by troutfishing at 10:28 PM on June 29, 2003

It wasn't until just now that I realized I posted the wrong link in that last comment--had the FPP link open in one window and the link I wanted to share that explains agenesis of the corpus callosum in another. Apologies all around. Here.
posted by emelenjr at 6:08 AM on June 30, 2003

Or not there, as the case may be.

altho I am pretty sure there will be pizza in heaven if we want it. And chocolate, of course

Please assure me that you were joking. Or is your heaven a physical simulacrum of 21st Century Earth?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:06 PM on July 1, 2003

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