Listen to this article How Scientists Studied A Man With Only 10% Of His Brain Functioning Normally Despite The Missing Tissue
In 2007, doctors in France made a shocking discovery when a 44-year-old man visited the hospital with leg weakness. After examining him, they found that most of his brain was missing. The condition, called hydrocephalus, had caused his skull to fill up with liquid, leaving only a thin layer of brain tissue. Despite this, the man had been leading a relatively normal life with a family and job, and his IQ was tested at 84, which falls slightly below the average range.
The Case’s Significance
This rare case fascinated Axel Cleeremans, a cognitive psychologist at the Université Libre in Brussels. He viewed it as a medical miracle and a challenge to theories about consciousness.
Cleeremans recently gave a lecture about the case at a conference for the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, where he discussed its implications for our understanding of the brain and consciousness.
Cleeremans explained that the case offers two main lessons. Firstly, it demonstrates that plasticity in the brain is likely more pervasive than previously thought, as it is remarkable that the brain could continue to function within the normal range despite having far fewer neurons than a typical brain. Secondly, the case challenges theories of consciousness that rely on specific neuro-anatomical assumptions. According to Cleeremans, the case suggests that consciousness does not depend on one particular region of the brain responsible for producing awareness, but rather that awareness depends on the brain’s ability to learn.
Implications for Theories of Consciousness
Cleeremans further elaborated that this case is a challenge for any theory of consciousness that relies on very specific neuro-anatomical assumptions. The idea that consciousness is tied to one specific region of the brain responsible for producing awareness is not supported by this case. This is because the man was able to function normally despite having only a small amount of brain tissue. Hence, the case lends support to the idea that awareness depends on the brain’s ability to learn, adapt, and reorganize itself.
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