There are a lot of accepted truths in brain science. Certain areas being responsible for certain functions, certain materials and density being required... It's all based on the study of normal brains. But what about those rare cases of people with virtually no brain?
Probably the most famous of these is the 2007 case of a man who sought help for a slightly weakened left leg, only to be scanned and find out that his brain was virtually non-existent. Have a look at the photos in that link — the black area is fluid. There really isn't much brain at all.
He wasn't dumb, either. He was a husband and father to two kids, and his IQ was 75 as opposed to the average of 100, though IQ tests are not a great indicator of intelligence in adults. Even so, 75 is quite capable.
That man isn't the only person to have that condition, and some of these people have been quite smart. So how can the brain continue to function without... a brain?
The real answer is, we kind of just don't know. But according to a new study, the answer might be found in the concept of brain plasticity, wherein the brain slowly re-maps its neural pathways to improve low performing functions. It's potentially how those with only 5% of a normal brain size can continue as normal, though the study notes that we still don't even know how normal brains store the amount of information they do, let alone those with the condition in question.
“If something happens very slowly over quite some time, maybe over decades, the different parts of the brain take up functions that would normally be done by the part that is pushed to the side,” pediatric brain defect specialist Max Muenke told New Scientist.
On the extreme end of thought on the matter, some wonder if brains are actually as necessary as we think.
At the very least, it shows the value of an open mind.
Image via Shutterstock