In last weeks science section of the Guardian, there is a very brief mention that a few years ago (the 70’s?) a professor (in the UK) reported that a very severe case of water on the brain, so severe infact that where most people have a brain this person had mainly water with only a thin lining of brain tissue. This person was described as socially normal, having an IQ of 124 and a first class degree? In the article the professor and the university was named, but I no longer have the article.
This to me sounds like an urban legend, soi what is the striaght dope on this? Is it true? Is it even possible?
I remember seeing a documentary about this; there has been some controversy (IIRC) over the imaging methods and procedures that were used to form the diagnosis that the brain was almost entirely missing.
The article “Whence cometh the myth that we only use ten percent of our brains?” by Barry L. Beyerstein - downloadable from this page - casts a dubious eye over Lorber’s conclusions in its penultimate section. Basically, the suggestion is that the patients involved might have a near normal provision of neurons, but these are compressed into a smaller volume.
I did a bit of searching on Medline and found a few articles (great benefit of being a university student). Unfortunately, I can’t link directly to the abstracts or full-text articles that I found.
I am definitely NOT a neurologist, but I found a few articles that I think are relevant: Current prognosis in overt neonatal hydrocephalus. in Journal of Neurosurgery. 57(3):378-83, 1982 Sep.
**Intellectual sequelae of primary non-obstructive hydrocephalus in infancy: analysis of 50 cases. ** in *Clinical Neurology & Neurosurgery. 87(4):247-53, 1985. *
This article talked about linguistic difficulties in children with hydrocephalus:
**Oral discourse after early-onset hydrocephalus : linguistic ambiguity, figurative language, speech acts, and script-based inferences. ** in * Journal of Pediatric Psychology. 18(5):639-52, 1993 Oct. *
This article talked about learning disabilities in general:
**Neuropsychologic and adaptive functioning in adolescents and young adults shunted for congenital hydrocephalus . ** in *Journal of Child Neurology. 14(3):144-50, 1999 Mar. *
This study is an older one, but it was the only full-text article I had access to:
**The relationship of intelligence and cerebral mantle in treated infantile hydrocephalus . (IQ potential in hydrocephalic children). ** in [/iPediatrics. 52(1):38-44, 1973 Jul. *
From looking at the graph in the article, the three highest IQs were approximately 130-135, with frontal cerebral mantle thicknesses of approximately 3.1cm (IQ of 130) to 4.0cm (IQs of 130 and 135). The graph only measures thicknesses of up to 5.0cm - but I didn’t see anywhere in the article that mentioned what “normal” thickness would be).
It appears that if hydrocephalus is treated earlier, there is generally a better prognosis. IQ correlates at least roughly to cerebral mantle thickness, and mental deficiencies may be due to changes in the neuronal structures, rather than just the thickness of the cortical mantle. Long term outcomes for hydrocephalus cases indicate that there may be linguistic difficulties, but there are no other associated learning disabilities.
*WARNING: WAG ahead. * I think that’s interesting - given that the case mentioned in the OP had a higher degree in maths. Perhaps people with this kind of brain damage have difficulty with abstract discourse and language, but don’t have a problem with mathematical reasoning.
I didn’t find any studies about the case from the OP specifically, so I couldn’t confirm or refute the original claims about brain thickness in that patient. Perhaps a “thin lining of brain tissue” means different things to different people. To a neurologist, it might mean a (statistically) significant difference in thickness. But to a layperson, it conjures up images of a tissue-thin layer. I know it did for me, anyways.