Is The Human Brain Really Necessary?

Some claim that humans suffering from hydrocephalus, or water in the brain, can survive and even thrive with only 5% of their original grey matter.

Now, I will admit to harboring some doubts when I learned that Charles Berlitz, author of The Bermuda Triangle, The Philadelphia Experiment - Project Invisibility, and The Roswell Incident -all theories handily debunked by our very own Cecil Adams- was a leading proponent of this view.

But then I came across this website which recounts work by British neurologist John Lorber and even alludes to an alleged 1980 article in Science. Holy spontaneous combustion, maybe they’re on to something!

You ever read Galapagos? Makes the argument that the brain is an evolutionary flaw. Really cool book. Essentially pointed out that people killed each other and themselves because of their “big brains.”

The cite above noted a Hydrocephalus sufferer who had only a “milimeter thick” layer of brain tissue on the inside of his skull. However, it also mentions that his head itself was “larger than normal.”

How large are we talking, here? I mean, if his braincase is twice the size of a “normal” human’s or something, that’d be quite a bit more surface area for the brain-layer to be attached to. Compared to a normal human skull, I mean.

The cite above noted a Hydrocephalus sufferer who had only a “milimeter thick” layer of brain tissue on the inside of his skull. However, it also mentions that his head itself was “larger than normal.”

How large are we talking, here? I mean, if his braincase is twice the size of a “normal” human’s or something, that’d be quite a bit more surface area for the brain-layer to be attached to. Compared to a normal human skull, I mean.

“Survive” is one thing.

“Survive with the help of a qualified nurse and medical staff” is quite another.

“Survive, thrive, support oneself and work out a unified field theory” is yet another…

There have been some people with hydrocephalus and severe brain damage who, nonetheless, have normal or above intelligence. One instance involved at student working on a Ph.D. that was discovered to have mostly fluid in the skull and only a little gray matter. This was a person who’s skull was not immediately notable as enlarged, who walked and talked normally, and clearly had some academic abilities. Apparently she had volunteered for a PET scan as part of some research one of the professors at the university was doing and everyone got a big surprise.

It should also be noted that her minimal gray matter showed an extremely high (even for the brain) metabolic rate.

Obviously, such people would not have been detected prior to modern medical science, and since they appear normal or above in intelligence and ability they aren’t likely to be discovered even today except by rare accident. We don’t normally do PET or CAT scans on people who appear and act normal. No one knows why their brains manage to function in such a reduced state.

There is also a very, very drastic surgery for a nasty form of epilepsy that involves removing nearly half a child’s brain. These children generally do better than without the surgery, and after rehabilitation can live fairly normal lives

I should also point out that the vast majority of people lacking in brain matter are not normal. The trick with the two above categories is that the damage occured when the child was young enough that what was left of the brain could compensate for the loss. The older you are when you lose a chunk of brain, the more permanent the effects.

The OP: “Is The Human Brain Really Necessary?”

It sure helped in formulating this thread…

I remember reading a report about the famous case where the brain scan appeared to show a thin, hollow shell of brain tissue and a fluid-filled cavity - there were some concerns about the imaging process; apparently it is possible that the brain tissue was merely abnormal and that the scanner simply didn’t ‘see’ it properly.

There could well be some truth in this question. My Dad went through a physical including a brain scan to find out why he was having dizzy spells. (It turned out his old car was leaking CO into the car.) Meanwhile, the MRI showed a part of brain was missing or “failed to develop”! The doctor said it was obviously no concern because he’s a healthy man now in his 70’s, in perfect health, and a honors student from NYU! So, go figure!

  • Jinx

I should add that the doctor explained there are parts of the brain that serve no purpose, like the appendix. Isn’t that strange to hear? But, this begs the question: how do they know it serves no purpose when we don’t fully understand how the brain works? It can only be through accidental discoveries such as what happened to my Dad (mentioned in previous post above), I WAG.

Of course, the ancient Greeks thought the brain was strictly for cooling the blood, IIRC. They knew we lose 90%* of our body heat through our heads (*as our mothers always caution in the winter - leading to many jokes). :smiley: - Jinx

Your doctor was obviously not a neuroscientist. I would be frightened to go to him/her.

There are no large portions of the brain that are known to be unused. Neuroscience has the brain mapped quite well. For some good information on the brain try this website. The brain can, however, adapt to loss of parts of itself. The brain, at any age, can be trained to adapt to loss of function due to stroke and such. There is a limit, however.

I would be disinclined to believe all those stories about a person with a thin layer of brain material without some serious evidence. I am not talking a news article either. The media is well known to exaggerate things and misquote doctors.

Yes, the human brain is necessary. Otherwise you are just a vegetable. If you don’t have your brain stem, you will just be dead.

Morphic Resonance

Sounds like something the homeland security people may want to look into–if all our thought are just floating around in the space-time continuum available to the correct receptor.

Anyone got a doobie? We’ll need some grass to fully understand all this…:stuck_out_tongue:

Necessary… ? Do you mean for us, or for you?

I remember watching a documentary a few years ago about a woman who had some form of illness / accident and surgeons were forced to remove a large proportion of her brain (30% ?). The woman was in her 30’s, but made a full recovery, her brain rewiring itself in order to allow her to do most things she could do before the surgery.

Sorry, I have no cite.


I wonder just how dense your brain tissue can become before there’s a problem? If all the neurons, connections, arteries, etc. were still there, but were smaller than normal, what might happen? WIth smaller vessels, blood would probably flow MORE than proportionally slower because of viscous effects and boundary layer.

If the metabolism of the whole thing was the same or higher, then squeezing your brain into a smaller volume might require extra blood circulation just for cooling… hard to do if the blood vessles are all reduced. On the other hand, if the brain wasn’t uniformly smaller, but instead was altered into a flat layer against the skull as the articles claim, then larger surface vessels could easily bring blood to all parts, and the small vessels inside the tissue could all be fairly short.

Hey. Go look at a brain. Doesn’t it ALREADY takes the shape of a much thinner, much larger sphere? It’s wrinkled in order to pack a wider expanse of grey matter into a limited volume. If I had my skull removed as a child, and I spent my time in a large tank of saline solution, would my brain end up as a floppy globular bag a yard across? :slight_smile: Longer dendrites connecting the sections, so I might thiiiinnnnnk slooooowwwwer than all you Normals.

I have what they like to call intractable epilepsy. I spent a few days in the hospital about six months ago so I could be on an EEG 24 hours a day. After almost going stir crazy for four days(you try having nurses talking to you from the ceiling for days on end. It was spooky!), my neurologist comes to me and explains that he’s never seen an EEG like mine in a functioning human being. We’ve dubbed it the EEG of an imbecile. (This is the part where I hope I don’t sound like I’m bragging.) I’m always done fairly well in school without much studying. I was a national merit finalist and got a full scholarship to college.

I also have hydrocephalus.

Chrysanthem. Chrysenthemumenums. My brain hurts.

The cerebral cortex is only a few millimeters thick anyway. The underlying bulk is mostly structural neuron tissue.

Uh oh. Must stop it. Must.




little TINY head no ROOM for brain

lit TLE tiny HEAD NO room FOR brain

Whew. Glad that’s over.