Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Brain: Do you really need a brain?

Recent research has cast doubt on just how neurons transmit information in the brain, and some wonder just what role the brain as a whole plays in thinking. Here is an interesting case:
In 1970, a New Yorker died at the age of 35. He had left school with no academic achievements, but had worked at manual jobs such as building janitor, and was a popular figure in his neighbourhood. Tenants of the building where he worked described him as passing the days performing his routine chores, such as tending the boiler, and reading the tabloid newspapers. When an autopsy was performed to determine the cause of his premature death he, too, was found to have practically no brain at all.

Apparently, he wasn’t the only one, hence the "too" in the last sentence. In "Is Your Brain Really Necessary?", in Ability of Love Journal , Richard Milton goes on to ask,
... if the brain is not a mechanism for classifying and storing experiences and analysing them to enable us to live our lives then what on earth is the brain for? And where is the seat of human intelligence? Where is the mind?

From what I have learned as co-author of The Spiritual Brain, I suspect that the problem lies in treating the brain as a filing cabinet of a certain dimension, when it is in fact an organ that is full of quantum processes that may not have a specific location at all. Asking “where” a thought or memory is might be akin to asking “where” and electron is or “where ” a wave is. The system probably just doesn’t work that way. And we do not actually know how much space/how many neurons are needed, at minimum, for various tasks.

(Note: People who regularly check this space may have noticed that I am sometimes absent for a week or so. Usually, I am writing a long article, or editing or indexing a book. Remember, bloggers are volunteers. I do what I can.)

My other blog is the Post-Darwinist, detailing events of interest in the intelligent design controversy.

Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary ( is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), anoverview of the intelligent design controversy, and of Faith@Science. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).

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