Living without a Brain

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Living without a Brain

Dr. John Lorber (19151996), neurology professor at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, recalled the time in the 1970s when the campus doctor asked him to examine a student whose head was a bit larger than normal. Instead of the normal 4.5-centimeter thickness of brain tissue between the ventricles and the cortical surface, Lorber discovered that the student had only a thin layer of mantle measuring about a millimeter and his cranium was filled mainly with cerebrospinal fluid.

The man had hydrocephalus, a condition in which the cerebrospinal fluid, instead of circulating around the brain, becomes dammed up inside the cranium and leaves no space for the brain to develop normally. Such a condition is usually fatal within the first few months of life. If individuals should survive beyond infancy, they are often severely retarded. In the case of the math major from the University of Sheffield, he had an IQ of 126 and graduated with honors.

Lorber collected research data concerning several hundred people who functioned quite well with practically no brains at all. Upon careful examination, he described some of the subjects as having no "detectable brains."

Dr. Patrick Wall, professor of anatomy at University College, London, stated that there existed "scores" of accounts of people existing without discernable brains. The importance of Lorber's work, Wall said, was that he had conducted a long series of systematic scanning, rather than simply collecting anecdotal material.

Lorber and other scientists theorized there may be such a high level of redundancy in normal brain function that the minute bits of brain that these people have may be able to assume the essential activities of a normal-sized brain.

David Bower, professor of neurophysiology at Liverpool University, England, stated that although Lorber's research did not indicate that the brain was unnecessary, it did demonstrate that the brain could work in conditions that conventional medical science would have thought impossible.


"is your brain really necessary?"alternative science news, september 9, 2002. [online]

lewin, roger. "is your brain really necessary?"science 210 (december 12, 1980). also [online]

nolte, john.the human brain: an introduction to its functional anatomy. philadelphia: mosby publishing, 2002.

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Living without a Brain

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