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Living with half a brain (Hemispherectomies)


This is truly, truly amazing. I remember reading somewhere before (in an article called “Is Your Brain Really Necessary” by somebody I can’t remember) on the condition of hydrocephalia which sometimes is discovered only late in life. Someteimes the patients have less than half of their brain tissue left, the most being taken over by brain fluid the uptake of which has for some reason been blocked. Nevertheless, in some cases the patients have been living normal, happy lives, engaged in highly intellectual and social activities.
And now there is this story. In some severe cases doctors have found that the only cure is to surgically remove hal of the patients brain, the left or the right hemisphere, as the case may be. If this is done in early childhood, thge patients may make an almost full recovery, both in terms of physical ability (therer may be a period of left/right paralysis), linguistic skills (even if you remove the right hemipshere) and social and cognitive abilities.
So what does this suggest to me? On one hand that that surgery is an amazing handicraft. Or what do you make of the fact that one surgeon performing the hemispheroctomies describes his expertise in a tactile way: “sick brain feels like mushy apple, healthy brain like very soft boiled egg”. On the other hand, that despite all the extravagant claims made in terms of physical correlates of consciousness or certain cognitive functions, we actually do know very little. This is proven by the simple fact that normally functioning hydrocephalics or patients after hemispherectomies simply do not possess the parts of brain that are supposed to be the “correlates” of this or that mental function. We do know that you need to have a brain in order to have a mind, but after that there is a long long stretch of unknowledge, and the neuroscientific claims coming after that immense unknowledge are not much better in illuminating philosophical questions than LaMetrrie’s description of the brain as a collection of self-winding springs in the 17th century.

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One Comment

  1. Anonymous wrote:

    I read a national geographic article, years ago where a man that had had a hemispherectomy as a young child, was now getting his degree in medicine.

    Monday, October 2, 2006 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

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