“Is Your Brain Really Necessary?”, Revisited

By Neuroskeptic | July 26, 2015 7:40 am

According to British biochemist Donald R. Forsdyke in a new paper in Biological Theory, the existence of people who seem to be missing most of their brain tissue calls into question some of the “cherished assumptions” of neuroscience.

I’m not so sure.

Forsdyke discusses the disease called hydrocephalus (‘water on the brain’). Some people who suffer from this condition as children are cured thanks to prompt treatment. Remarkably, in some cases, these post-hydrocephalics turn out to have grossly abnormal brain structure: huge swathes of their brain tissue are missing, replaced by fluid. Even more remarkably, in some cases, these people have normal intelligence and display no obvious symptoms, despite their brains being mostly water.

Here’s Forsdyke’s illustration: a normal adult brain on the left, alongside two striking adult post-hydrocephalic ones. The black spaces are nothing but fluid:


This phenomenon was first noted by a British pediatrician called John Lorber. Lorber never published his observations in a scientific journal, although a documentary was made about them. However, his work was famously discussed in Science in 1980 by Lewin in an article called “Is Your Brain Really Necessary?“. There have been a number of other more recent published cases.

Forsdyke argues that such cases pose a problem for mainstream neuroscience. If a post-hydrocephalic brain can store the same amount of information as a normal brain, he says, then “brain size does not scale with information quantity”, therefore, “it would seem timely to look anew at possible ways our brains might store their information.”

Whereas the orthodox view is that “information relating to long-term memory is held within the brain in some chemical or physical form”, Forsdyke says that we need to consider the possibility that memory is stored “in some extremely minute, subatomic, form, as yet unknown to biochemists and physiologists” or, maybe, that it is stored “outside the body—extracorporeal!”

Forsdyke refers to this latter possibility as ‘cloud storage’, suggesting that perhaps “The brain [is] as a receptor/transmitter of some form of electromagnetic wave/particle… of course, when speaking of extracorporeal memory we enter the domain of “mind” or “spirit” with corresponding metaphysical implications.”

Hmm. There’s no question that some of these brains are very striking. But I don’t think we need to throw out the textbooks yet.

While the enormous “holes” in these brains seem dramatic, the bulk of the grey matter of the cerebral cortex, around the outside of the brain, appears to be intact and in the correct place – this is visible as the dark grey ‘shell’ beneath the skull. What appears to be missing is the white matter, the nerve tracts that connect the various parts of the cerebral cortex with each other, and with the other areas of the brain.

However, some white matter is still visible as the pale grey layer that borders the holes. The big question is whether this layer of white matter is sufficient to connect up the grey matter and allow it to function normally. There doesn’t seem to be much of it, but on the other hand, we really don’t know how much white matter is strictly necessary.

I wonder also if the white matter might be denser than normal i.e. if the fibers were packed together due to being gradually compressed by the expanding fluid spaces?

No-one seems to have looked at this possibility directly; while there have been brain scanning studies of these adult post-hydrocephalics, no detailed post-mortem studies of their brain tissue have been published, as far as I know. (Forsdyke does not discuss any and I couldn’t find any in my searches.) For more on the neuroanatomy of this issue, see John Hawks (discussed by Forsdyke.)

Therefore in my view, these cases probably won’t require us to rethink neuroscience, although they do raise the issue of how much white matter is necessary. It may be that much of our white matter is redundant, which would be interesting, but not on a metaphysical level. I’m surprised that more research hasn’t been done into this issue, anyway.

Thanks to Rolf Degen for letting me know about this paper.

ResearchBlogging.orgForsdyke, D. (2015). Wittgenstein’s Certainty is Uncertain: Brain Scans of Cured Hydrocephalics Challenge Cherished Assumptions Biological Theory DOI: 10.1007/s13752-015-0219-x

  • Enzo Tagliazucchi

    what about subcortical grey matter? where is it? if these people do not have anything resembling a thalamus, for instance, it’s hard to conceive they could be conscious in the same way we are, not to mention to perceive the world in the same way.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      That’s a good question. It would be astonishing if structures like the thalamus and striatum were absent entirely. From eyeballing the images it looks like they could still be present albeit “crushed”.

      None of the published descriptions of these extreme cases seem to go into much anatomical detail. It’s surprising how no-one seems to have done a quantitative VBM of one of these patients, for instance. Not that I could find.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Youtube ?v=tiLR_RAWQnE This educates us that no child need be left behind (as long as it is fed by subsidies and need only appear to be gainfully employed).

  • Lana

    The fact that you never see the inverse – tiny ball of brain floating in liquid – also seems to suggest that to function properly, brain area is more important than volume.
    Not saying that the bulk of white matter is just stuffing to maintain the right proportion of adjacent and not adjacent surfaces but… well, why not.

  • The Neuro Times

    I think it depends on what the cherished assumptions really are…. A great deal of our functioning is autonomic and reflexive. Brain tumors do not necessarily impact brain function (until they do). Likewise, many diseases not localized in the brain bring with them diminished cognitive capacity without any evident direct impact on higher nervous system operation. Such facts may well reveal that the experience of “being” and “intelligence” and “cognition” requires very little brain matter one way or the other because distributed across the body, both neurally throughout other tissues. Let me put this differently, just because I don’t think with my reflexes, doesn’t mean that my reflexes don’t think through me. It is probably in that inversion whence cognitive states arise. Since we don’t know what consciousness is, we have no real means of gauging how little or how much of anything we require to acquire awareness. The idea that more is better than less probably tells us more about human – i.e. scientists – preferences for metaphors than it does much else.

  • Rex Jung

    From a neuropsychological perspective, if (bad) things happen very slowly, the brain can, and often does accommodate with few obvious behavioral deficits. You can pick up deficits from detailed neuropsychological testing, as I am certain that you would find in testing these individuals. I would also assure you that, while “intelligence” was “normal” (whatever that might mean), it was far reduced from premorbid (i.e., preinjury) levels. The notion that there is some “cloud storage” is a nice fantasy without any supporting scientific data. Finally, Neuroskeptic’s observation that the structures of white and gray matter are somewhat preserved (although squished) is important in understanding the brain-behavioral relationships. I have seen many patients with hydrocephalus in clinic and this is not something that is associated with no cognitive deficit (i.e., double negative = it f’s you up big time). The rare cases of congenital hydrocephalus, as these cases appear to be, would be interesting to study regarding slow, steady, reorganization of brain structure-function relationships.

  • John H.

    One of my FBFs had a massive cerebral hemorrhage and was in a coma for years. By the brain scans at least she shouldn’t be able to even feed herself let alone talk. The recovery is remarkable and certainly does challenge some of our notions about how brains work. She refers to herself as “The Thoughtful Vegetable”.

    Many years ago I received a draft for a submission to the Royal Proceedings journals in which experiments of “de-cerebrated” rats were mentioned. These rats still had the cerebellum and brainstem, the rest of the CNS completely detached. Yet these rats could perform a very surprising array of behaviors. I’m not that surprised because I believe that so many behaviors become reflexive and eventually are controlled by the brainstem and cerebellum, leaving the other CNS regions free to learn new behaviors.

  • http://www.smokershistory.com/ CarolAST
  • forsdyke

    The statement “Lorber never published his observations in a scientific journal” may be true. However, one should not infer that he never tried to publish. More likely, editors and peer-reviewers found his observations incredible and refused to publish. Now that his observations have been independently verified, the publication barrier has become a trifle easier to surmount.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      That’s true. Thanks for the comment!

      • forsdyke

        Since the time of the above comments, although I have read parts of the blog below, I have entirely missed out on the fascinating detective work that led to the discovery that the paper of Oliviera et al. (2012) is fraudulent. I now, in September 2017, have discovered that detective work. I blush to admit that even though the photos in question were close to each other on one of my webpages, I had not noticed that the Oliviera photo was identical to that of Feuillet et al. (2007). This means that there is only one independent verification of Lorber’s work.

        Hopefully, in the years ahead, further data will emerge and there will be post-mortem studies of the brains of some of his patients. However, the case I have made also relies on other, less flamboyant neuroscientific observations. For more see http://post.queensu.ca/~forsdyke/mind01.htm.

  • polistra24

    You can certainly lose half of the brain with very minimal problems. I’ve known three people who lost half, due to hydrocephalus or car crashes. They had subtle deficits in fine coordination, or problems in perceiving certain kinds of humor, but nothing you’d notice in a casual encounter.

    • donl

      I also knoew of one who lost a fair portion of brain due to war!,,he doesn’t really communicate to well and has little in the way of motor function!..but he’s alive..but w/out support around him..he wouldn’t!

  • R_ Leakey
    • http://jayarava.blogspot.com Jayarava

      Given the Buddhist symbol as your avatar you may be interested in my essay: http://jayarava.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/there-is-no-life-after-death-sorry.html

      It shows why consciousness independent of the brain would require us to rewrite all the known laws of physics at scales of mass, energy and length relevant to the working of the human body. And this is extremely implausible because the current theories, though incomplete, predict the behaviour of matter and energy extremely accurately.

      The only avenue open is to posit a mind/body dualism, but this is deeply problematic. Dualism has been abandoned by philosophers because it fails to explain the known, let alone the unknown. It is also rejected by Buddhist philosophers.

      Anyway the detail is in the essay if you are interested.

      • R_ Leakey

        Thanks for your link and reply. I will certainly look at your blog at once! However, here for quick reply I should say I agree with you about all the rewriting the physical laws
        since we are also stardust. Buddha clearly accepted the Mesopotamian and Vedic notions of four fundamental elements (fire, air, water and earth) and space as building blocks of human entity. Later atomism also was accepted in Buddhism. Atomism was already in the air before Buddha. In Buddhism, mind just not means consciousness but four entities: perceptions, feelings, mental formations and consciousness. In the Culla Malunkya Putta Sutta, Buddha denied to say whether Mind and Body are same or different (in catusokti form). Thus it would be mistake to say that Buddha perceived mind and body as dual entity! Milind Panha says mind and body are inseparable! Where body is born there mind also is born. Where mind is born there body is also born. In the Dependent Origination Buddha talks how ignorance causes mental formations and mental formations causes
        consciousness …and consciousness causes birth of body and mind and so on.
        Here Buddha sees consciousness as a product of body and a sort of mind. However, Buddha also sees consciousness behaves like a seed of a tree which still remains even after demise of tree and in favorable condition it can grow as a plant and tree and will bear fruits. Buddha was not unaware of sperm and ovum and conception process but still he talked about rebirth! Why so? What did it mean to him? Despite the very illustrative meaning rebirth in Milind Pannha, the concept of rebirth
        is not so easily comprehensible! Obviously, the concept of rebirth is not empirical and nor cosmology is! Do you believe in Big Bang and universe from nothing theories? I do believe! Cosmologists cannot say what was there before the bang but they clearly say after bang universe went through several forms of evolutions! In the primary stage (Plank epoch) tiny universe was just full of radiation of photons and gradually matters formed! These theories smash the theory of materialism! Photons and bosons are not matters but immaterials! Now some scientists claim that within few years they will able to form matter from photons. Our brains are made of billions of neurons and produce electromagnetic field (bio-photons)! Now many scholars believe in quantum mind theory of consciousness and I see it as logical! If it is so, rebirth is no more superstition but a potential metaphysics!

        • http://jayarava.blogspot.com Jayarava

          Yes. I’m going into the psychology of belief, why things seem logical to us when they are not, in my forthcoming book on Karma and Rebirth. Not many scholars actually believe in a quantum theory of consciousness. It was proposed but has yet to make many converts amongst serious scientists. In fact the theory is very thin on evidence of any causal link.

          A small correction: the Buddha was not aware of sperm and ovum. Ancient Indians did believe that semen was required for conception, and were aware that fertility was associated with the menstrual cycle, but they had no conception of sperm or egg. And how could they since those things were not seen until microscopes were invented.

          Rebirth was simply the pan-Indian version of the afterlife. Everyone believed in it by the time of the Buddha’s putative lifetime. But Buddhists themselves could never settle on a workable account of how rebirth operated. The arguments are recorded in a variety of texts – and I’ve dealth with this material in a series of essays on my blog. The upshot is that, while belief was ubiquitous, understanding was always lacking. No theory was ever really viable, and in the light of modern knowledge of the universe this is doubly so.

          • R_ Leakey

            1. I am sorry to say, I am not interested in another metaphysical explanation for or against of karma and rebirth! I have also science background, and I am not alone to BELIEVE the Buddhist concept of karma and rebirth. Better you focus on empirical researches to attract the readers! You will not have large mass of audience to buy your book if you limit your studies to metaphysics! Both groups believe and non-believers in karma and rebirth will not listen to you, because they are tired of it!

            2. Thanks for YOUR correction but I must say your logic is too weak. Microscope is needed to validation/falsification but not to believe. Things can be believed and invented without scientific knowledge and explanation. Boat was invented almost 80,000 years ago but was explained by Archimedes only in classical age. Buddhism
            believed there are four types of living beings according to their births: setaj or Ushmaj (born from moisture), Uttavuj (born from seeds), Andaj (born from egg) and Jeraj or Pindaj (born from womb). I cannot remember where did I learn but Sukka, sukkakit, sukkanu and sukkasankhat are the terms for semen and sperm. Masturbation is prohibited for monk because they believe it is not just lust but violence too. Buddhist physiology gives details about kidney, heart, lung, and other internal organs. Indian philisophies (Vaisheshik, Jain and Mahayana Buddhism) believed in atoms without modern technologies.

    • bwana

      Loved the presentation. My uncle was revived after being declared dead from a heart attack. He tried explaining the experience and his meeting with death relatives, etc. Everyone he knew thought he simply had severe brain damage and imagining it all; however, I found him to be “changed” by the experience. No more fear of death. More adventurous. More relaxed about daily concerns. Much more lucid about almost everything.

      He lived for another 15 years after this bout and was very much a changed (for the better) person.

      • R_ Leakey

        Nice to learn about your uncle’s story! It sounds supportive!

  • Ever García

    That is pretty impressive. Hopefully we’ll be solving those misteries soon with the progress in neuroscience.

  • Bee

    Did this nonsensical ‘cloud storage’ story really get published in a scientific journal? (Can’t access the paper, sorry.)

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      It did, all my quotes are from the paper. Although it wasn’t presented as a full-blown theory, but just as a possible line of inquiry…

      • Bee

        Gosh, I can’t believe that, you’d think that if somebody has a PhD in something they’d at least take the time to look up some basic physics. Like, why do brains work where no cellphone does? Why hasn’t anybody ever measured the (enourmous) amount of information that must be exchanged through this cloud. Who or what generates the necessary energy? Or more to the point, if that was an option why has nobody before put this totally ingenious idea into writing? Possibly because it isn’t all that ingenious? This idea is obvious bullshit and anybody with a brain (ha-ha-ha) should have been able to spot this.

        • forsdyke

          It is a pity Bee cannot access the paper in Biological Theory. A companion paper (2014) may be more accessible: Frontiers in Neuroscience .

          • Bee

            Thanks :)

          • forsdyke

            And a more meaty paper will shortly be out in History of Psychiatry, my web version of which has a nice introductory video attached.

          • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

            Thanks – I will make sure to read that when it’s out.

        • bks3bks

          Basic physics like “dark matter” and “dark energy”?

    • bwana

      I can see you have a limited imagination? Let’s keep an open mind until the theory is proven wrong.

      • Bee

        This isn’t how science works. If you propose a new hypothesis it’s up to you to prove it’s compatible with all existing evidence, but this idea obviously isn’t and the author apparently hasn’t even bothered to think of it. This isn’t science, it’s crackpottery. If there was information transfer between human brains we’d long have noticed. There is no physical mechanism compatible with the laws of nature that would allow it without long having been measured. What do you believe how transferring data to the cloud works for your cellphone? That fairies come and take it and fly it elsewhere? It’s electromagnetic radiation and you can measure it – you can even tap onto it, that’s how many wifi hackers work.

        This so-called theory is a standard crackpot idea and should never have appeared in a journal. This has nothing to do with ‘keeping an open mind’, it’s just plain nonsense, right in the array of quantum healing and spiritual power from dark energy and other pseudoscience. Though, given the present state of peer review, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of that also got published in some journals.

        • bwana

          I really thank you for the explanation for how sicence works, having been a scientist for close to 45 years.

          Now let’s not be so close-minded that you can’t even think outside the box for once in our relatively short lives. Do you believe in entangled particles? Not that long ago no one even considered this and the theory has still not quite proven it. Do you believe the latest microwave propulsion system being tested by NASA (and others). Not even a theory as to how this works? String theory (M-Theory) proposes 11 dimensions of space/time. It is very possible one of these dimensions is the conduit. To us it might appear like your fairies come and transfer it elsewhere.

          “It’s electromagnetic radiation” might be so wrong you’d be stupified… But I’m sure you’d never consider the impossible as possible. Numerous scientists throughout the ages have been as wrong about what they know (for sure).

          A brief look at quantum mechanics can’t even resolve whether we exist, whether we’re simply a 3D projection of a 2D brane, whether we’re real or simply an avatar in a huge simulation.

          As for the brain, it simply “interprets” what it is provided by the senses, and may actually pass it on to some other storage entity? The hypothesis is valid until proven wrong! Nature abhors the lose of information. What better way to conserve it than to “write” it to an offsite “cloud”!?

          • Bee

            That depresses me incredibly, that you are allowed to call yourself a scientist with so little understanding of basic science.

            Science isn’t about “belief” science is about fact. Entanglement has been observed, fact. (Local) energy conservation is one of the best established principles in physics, I certainly do not think you can get around it.

            No, extra dimensions do not allow the propagation of information in ‘unknown ways’, this just serves to demonstrate you don’t have any clue what you are talking about. That would necessitate a very strong additional (5th force) which has not been observed and isn’t contained in these theories (for the reason that if it was then the theories would long have been proved wrong.)

            You also clearly don’t know what the holographic principle is and what it means. I’ll stop here. Do some reading before you go on to distribute nonsense.

            Neutroskeptic: I don’t know why you host such nonsense, I’m out of here, no interest to waste my time with that.

          • bwana

            A lot of what we once knew as science fiction is now science fact…


          • R_ Leakey

            When you emphasis more on theory and proper methodology than discovery and invention then science will not be science! Unfortunately, historians and philosophers of science will tell you that such kind of attitude is of a tyranny of science. Read Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, Imre Lokatos, Massimo Pigliucci and other how difficult is to define science. Everyone tries to define religion and science in their own ways. Who is a farmer ? Those who cultivate farm and produce foods. Whether they use modern or old technologies that does not effect. That is why, Kuhn, Feyerabend, and Lokatos are not emphasizing on theory and methodology but on productions (discovery and inventions). See this interesting video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j12BBcKSgEQ

          • Talaria

            Thank you so much for this video! I learned the scientific method but didn’t follow it. I did, however, follow Teman Cooke’s cycle of scientific thinking. Reassuring. (My profs wouldn’t approve but…)

  • http://samtalksabout.blogspot.com Squizzlemonkey

    After reading the paper, it seems he is totally focussed on trying to attack the notion that brain volume is directly linked to intelligence, while anybody in the field was probably taught that this isn’t the main idea in neuroscience within their first few months as an undergrad! You just have to look at it from the other side, why are people with big heads comparatively more intelligent? why aren’t large mammals vastly more intelligent than us (as far as we can tell)? He fails at any point to mention the issues of neuronal density.

    Additionally (just an idea), could it be that because of the close proximity of neurones to one another that grey matter connectivity could somehow be facilitated? Also if they are closer together, could it be that supporting cells such as astrocytes can reach more neurones in a given space, therefore reducing the number of astrocytes required and therefore saving space?

  • http://jayarava.blogspot.com Jayarava

    Haven’t read the other comments yet, but the big question in my mind is not related to volume but to *density*. Volume tells us very little. An elephant or a whale has a good deal more brain volume than a human, but considerably less intelligence. What matters is numbers of neurons and synapses and how many per cubic centimetre. And how big are the individual neurons?

    It seems as though, from what you say, that no one has done any more than comment on volume to date. So we know very little about the anatomy of these unusual brains. The fact that your comment about relative amounts of grey/white matter seems like a new observation also suggests that it is way too early to be speculating about how the brain stories information more generally.

    The idea of off-board memory storage has many problems, which means that a priori it is a very unlikely solution to the problem. What is the storage medium? The read-write system? How can we answer either of these questions without breaking the known laws of physics. The scale of the physics problem can be grasped from Sean Carroll’s two blog posts.



    The only mechanisms available for memory storage at the mass, length, and energy scales relevant to the human brain, involve known forces, particles, and fields. We can predict behaviour of matter at the atomic scale to 10 decimal places. If there was something else affecting matter on these scales, we’d have found it by now. In short there is no way to posit off-brain memory storage without also rewriting all the known laws of physics. Let’s not waste any more time on this.

    Of course this leaves many unanswered questions. But as scientists surely our response to lack of data is not to wildly speculate, but to hypothesise and *seek more data*. And since it seems some basic data remains uncollected we have plenty to get on with before we have to resort to filling the gaps with imagination. Where are the fMRI studies? The post-mortem dissections? Come on!

  • dsws

    The whole head is larger in hydrocephalus. So there can be a big void in the middle, while still having roughly the normal amount of brain around the outside.

    However, people with hydrocephalus suffer various nasty symptoms associated with brain dysfunction, pretty much as one would expect from the prevailing view of normal brain function.

  • Wade Carmen

    Politicians, religious psychos, lawyers, and Kardashians have functioned without needing brains.

    • donl

      Quite true!

    • J_R_K

      As long as the fight continues, then yes, I need my brain. But if the liberals win, nobody’s going to need one.

    • ericlipps

      Oh, they need brains, all right; they just don’t have any.

  • bwana

    “The brain [is] as a receptor/transmitter of some form of electromagnetic wave/particle”
    I can accept this possibility, as the brain simply being a “node” on your thread in some other dimension.

  • JohnBoy

    Is it possible that we used to be a lot more intelligent, but nowadays we need very little brain to support the level of intelligence to which we have degenerated (OK, I speak for myself!)?

  • donl

    I love science,but every now and then poses a really stupid question then studies it..wonder where they received their grant….lets see if we didn’t have a brain we wouldn’t be discussing this today..but then would we know this or even care,..most every living ctreature has one..big small and inbetween..I’d have to say..we need’em though I sometimes wonder if we all have one?

  • Carmel Hopkins

    We are amazing animals!

  • Alan Ward

    The difference is in the liquid. It’s when the cavities are filled with air that intelligence is known to be lacking.

  • Moira West

    I have lesions and loss of function because of MS – so – why is my brain not able to function normally? If nerves can operate the body when there is no brain for them to reside in – how is this possible?

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  • ordinary american

    That would explain the concept of Low Information Voters

  • Krissalee85

    I had 1/4 of my brain removed due to an infiltrating tumor. My amygdala and hippocampus are gone along with a big chunk of my left temporal lobe. Apart from having poor short term memory, my cognitive functioning was not significantly impacted according to neuropsychological testing. It seems that the brain has a remarkable ability to accommodate structural alterations, at least when these occur gradually over a period of time. I had a WADA test done that showed the typical functions of the amygdala and hippocampus had relocated to parts of my brain not reached by the tumor. After looking at the amazing pictures in this article, it is good to know how much brain can be lost without becoming vegetables.

    • nancyfay

      That is amazing to me. Wow. I have suffered a bunch of concussions and seem to be having a lot of memory problems. Did you do any kind of cognitive therapy after your surgery? Would appreciate your input as to how to deal with this.

      • Krissalee85

        I saw a speech therapist who also helped me with improving my short term memory. I would recommend this if it is available in your area.

        • nancyfay

          Thanks! I have been working in Pa. but live in Florida so will check that out. But what is the connection between speech therapy and memory?

  • Rosie raveis

    I have a unique perspective on this topic having been diagnosed with normal pressure hydrocephalus last year at age 58, and, I am a med school professor with a PhD in physiology. My brain scans are scary, ventricles are not qui

  • Overburdened_Planet

    I have a thought.

    But studies show I was mistaken.

    Except now I am the front runner in conservative circles.

    It can be confusing in the present era.

    More studies must be done.

  • Overburdened_Planet

    The spaces in brain matter is similar to the pauses in music.

    But I am waiting to receive grant money before I am willing to explore these postulations further.

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  • Ghayth O. Dabbagh

    It’s a matter of compensation; one can live normally with half liver or half pancreas, but it’s much healthier to have a full organ. As I noticed from the article, extensive research n study haven’t yet been made. That would possibly mean that a person with fluid-filled brain or “half brain” could be susceptible to problems n disabilities in extreme situation or condition that we don’t notice normally, and would shed light on the real differences. But yet to be studed more deeply. It’s impossible to have a normal brain size as good as a quarter brain size! It defies logic…

  • Flavio Kulevicz Bartoszeck

    Its possible that his brain matter are disguized as a fluid by the sensors?!(some abnormal congenital trait of its brain cells?) Its not mentioned anywhere a biopsy or any invasive procedure…

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      That’s a good question, but no, it’s extremely unlikely. Brain tissue never looks like that, the only thing that looks that way is fluid.

  • Ondřej Havlíček

    I am a bit puzzled (among other things, like Forsdyke’s mixture of the legitimate extended mind thesis of Clark and Chalmers with some esoteric notion of a noncorporeal soul transmitted to the brain which he apparently likes above other possible explanations) by the picture of the brains above, namely the middle scan. Forsdyke (2015) references it as originating from another his paper (Forsdyke 2014), and in that paper he references it as originating from de Oliviera et al 2012 (http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnhum.2011.00181/full), who claim that it is their unpublished data of “a normal subject with impressive hydrocephalus “. But a strikingly similar scan was published in Lancet by Feuillet et al 2007 (http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2807%2961127-1/fulltext), as belonging to a 44 y.o. white collar worker with IQ 75. Correct me if I’m wrong above, but is this legitimate?

    • smut clyde

      “Strikingly similar” is an understatement. De Oliviera’s scan from “unpublished data” is *identical* to panels A and C from Feuillet et al. (apart from a loss of resolution, and the erasure of the labels. De Oliviera has some explaining to do.

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

        How bizarre… They are identical. Well spotted. I’ll email the authors.

        • Ondřej Havlíček

          So it really is the same, I was thinking whether I should email the editors or the authors. Have you already emailed them? I can also do it. I think that even though it is Frontiers, it is worth it.

          • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

            Email sent!

          • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

            Update: 7 days ago I sent an email to MF de Oliveira, the first author of the Frontiers paper.

            I have not had any reply, so I just sent one to JRM de Oliveira who was listed as the editor and also as one of the peer reviewers (he shares the same surname as the author).

          • Michael Vd K

            Goodness, authors from Brazil, editor from Brazil who at the same time was also reviewer. And the other reviewer……surprise, from Brasil.

  • smut clyde

    I’m worried about the danger of over-reliance on MRI and CAT imaging. I mean, the neat sharp-edged images we see are highly-processed artefacts which are only achievable because the algorithms start with assumptions about the density and fluid content of different types of tissue. They use those assumptions to deconvolve the MRI signals back into an internally-consistent map. But white matter in hydrocephalus isn’t normal — it’s waterlogged, the glial-cell metabolism is all cattywampus, and so on.

    So how reliable are the algorithm’s decisions to code some voxels as “tissue” and other voxels as “fluid”?

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  • Keith Scott-Mumby

    You’re off with your data. People who are down to 1 – 2% brain can NOT have a normal cerebral cortex, as you claim. So in fact you are not being scientific, just pretending to be with your “opinion”.

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  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic
    • smut clyde

      Kudos to Ondřej Havlíček!

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

        Yes, it’s great news. Here’s my report to Frontiers for posterity (sent 10th August 2015), I discovered that a New Scientist article was an additional uncited source:

        Dear Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,

        I’m writing in regards the paper “Revisiting hydrocephalus as a model to study brain resilience” published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in 2012 by Matheus Fernandes de Oliveira et al.

        I have noticed some irregularities in images in this paper.

        In Figure 1, the middle panel is a brain scan described as being “the brain of a normal man with impressive hydrocephalus (Oliveira et al., unpublished data; middle)”

        However, the images in the middle panel are identical to the images from a New Scientist article (2007) which in turn was a summary the paper “Brain of a white-collar worker” by Feuillet et al. published in 2007 in The Lancet. Feuillet et al. are from a different institution from Oliveira et al. So these images cannot be the authors’ unpublished data.

        The ‘normal brain’ image on the left of de Oliveira et al’s Figure 1 is also taken from the same New Scientist article. No acknowledgement is given for the use of either image.

        Please see the attached picture showing the similarities.

        I emailed the corresponding author Matheus Fernandes de Oliveira about this but he did not reply. I also contacted Joao Ricardo de Oliveira who is listed as the editor on this paper and as one of the peer reviewers, he did not reply either.




    Western science is like a stubborn old man who doesn’t like new thinking.

  • Timothy Collins

    Perhaps this is a virtual reality? There is no brain. Information is non physical. The brain does not process, or store any information. Consciousness is not created by the brain. The brain is simply a constraint that is part of a rule set called physical experience.

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No brain. No gain.

About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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