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Man Missing Most of His Brain Challenges Early Theories of Consciousness

Man Missing Most of His Brain Challenges Early Theories of Consciousness

This man, whose brain is almost nonexistent, was married and even fathered two children. His IQ was around 75, meaning he had below-average intelligence, but could not be considered mentally handicapped.

Consciousness is something that eludes any sort of solid understanding by mankind. Yes, we’re conscious, but we have no idea why or how consciousness even exists. Basic theories surrounding consciousness suggest that it’s linked to the brain in some way.

And many of those theories are now being called into question after a man missing most of his brain was found to be fully conscious.

This 44-year-old Frenchman was discovered to be missing most of his brain after going to the hospital because of a weakness he felt in his left leg. Scans of his body revealed that there was mostly fluid where brain matter should be, with only a thin layer of brain tissue residing near the perimeter of his skull.

This man, whose brain is almost nonexistent, was married and even fathered two children. His IQ was around 75, meaning he had below-average intelligence, but could not be considered mentally handicapped.

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“Any theory of consciousness has to be able to explain why a person like that, who’s missing 90% of his neurons, still exhibits normal behavior,” says Axel Cleeremans of the Université Libre de Bruxelles.

Scientists have labeled different parts of the brain as being responsible for certain functions, features, and processes. For example, the frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes of the brain are thought to control motion, sensibility, language, vision, audition, emotional, and cognitive functionality. And yet, the fully-functional Frenchman barely had any of these brain regions left.

This leads scientists to believe that the brain is capable of adapting and surviving if the damage to the brain happens at a gradual rate. Cleeremans now believes that consciousness is something that the brain learns, which, in turn, suggests that consciousness requires only a few specific neural areas of the brain to exist.

“Consciousness is the brain’s non-conceptual theory about itself, gained through experience—that is learning, interacting with itself, the world, and with other people,” he says.

So, this theory suggests that consciousness exists not simply because the brain stores information, but because humans care that the brain stores information. It is the brain thinking about itself that creates consciousness.

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