Mind Power News
Saturday, June 26, 2004 / Issue No. 49 / 2004 by Andreas Ohrt

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This week:

IS YOUR BRAIN REALLY NECESSARY? Remarkable research by neurology professor John Lorber has found that there are people who lead quite normal lives despite not seeming to have a brain.

DO WE REALLY USE ONLY 10% OF OUR BRAINS? On the other hand, neuroscientist Brett Baltimore argues that the belief that we use only 10% of our brains is pure myth.

DORMANT POWERS OF THE HUMAN BRAIN: And on the third hand, many others believe that human beings possess a whole range of dormant powers of which they are usually unaware, and which can be learned through proper brain development.

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Is Your Brain Really Necessary?

By Richard Milton

Do you really have to have a brain? The reason for my apparently absurd question is the remarkable research conducted at the University of Sheffield by neurology professor John Lorber.

When Sheffield's campus doctor was treating one of the mathematics students for a minor ailment, he noticed that the student's head was a little larger than normal. The doctor referred the student to professor Lorber for further examination.

The student in question was academically bright, had a reported IQ of 126 and was expected to graduate. When he was examined by CAT-scan, however, Lorber discovered that he had virtually no brain at all.

Instead of two hemispheres filling the cranial cavity, some 4.5 centimetres deep, the student had less than 1 millimetre of cerebral tissue covering the top of his spinal column.

The student was suffering from hydrocephalus, the condition in which the cerebrospinal fluid, instead of circulating around the brain and entering the bloodstream, becomes dammed up inside the brain.

Normally, the condition is fatal in the first months of childhood. Even where an individual survives he or she is usually seriously handicapped. Somehow, though, the Sheffield student had lived a perfectly normal life and went on to gain an honours degree in mathematics.

This case is by no means as rare as it seems. 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.

Professor Lorber has identified several hundred people who have very small cerebral hemispheres but who appear to be normal intelligent individuals. Some of them he describes as having 'no detectable brain', yet they have scored up to 120 on IQ tests.

No-one knows how people with 'no detectable brain' are able to function at all, let alone to graduate in mathematics, but there are a couple theories. One idea is that there is such a high level of redundancy of function in the normal brain that what little remains is able to learn to deputise for the missing hemispheres. Another, similar, suggestion is the old idea that we only use a small percentage of our brains anyway -- perhaps as little a 10 per cent. The trouble with these ideas is that more recent research seems to contradict them. The functions of the brain have been mapped comprehensively and although there is some redundancy there is also a high degree of specialisation -- the motor area and the visual cortex being highly specific for instance. Similarly, the idea that we 'only use 10 per cent of our brain' is a misunderstanding dating from research in the 1930s in which the functions of large areas of the cortex could not be determined and were dubbed 'silent', when in fact they are linked with important functions like speech and abstract thinking.

The other interesting thing about Lorber's findings is that they remind us of the mystery of memory. At first it was thought that memory would have some physical substrate in the brain, like the memory chips in a PC. But extensive investigation of the brain has turned up the surprising fact that memory is not located in any one area or in a specific substrate. As one eminent neurologist put it, 'memory is everywhere in the brain and nowhere.'

But 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?

The only biologist to propose a radically novel approach to these questions is Dr Rupert Sheldrake. In his book A New Science of Life Sheldrake rejected the idea that the brain is a warehouse for memories and suggested it is more like a radio receiver for tuning into the past. Memory is not a recording process in which a medium is altered to store records, but a journey that the mind makes into the past via the process of morphic resonance.

But, of course, such a crazy idea couldn't possibly be true, could it?

Source: AlternativeScience.com

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Do We Really Use Only 10 percent of our Brains?

By Brett Baltimore, Md.
Brain Behaviour Laboratory,
Simon Fraser University

Whenever I venture out of the Ivory Tower to deliver public lectures about the brain, by far the most likely question I can expect as the talk winds up is, "Do we really only use 10 percent of our brains?"

The look of disappointment that usually follows when I say it isn't so strongly suggests that the 10-percent myth is one of those hopeful shibboleths that refuses to die simply because it would be so darn nice if it were true. I'm sure none of us would turn down a mighty hike in brainpower if it were attainable, and a seemingly never-ending stream of crackpot schemes and devices continues to be advanced by hucksters who trade on the myth.

Always on the lookout for a "feel-good" story, the media have also played their part in keeping the myth alive. A study of self-improvement products by a panel of the prestigious National Research Council, Enhancing Human Performance, surveyed an assortment of the less far-fetched offerings of the "brain booster" genre and came to the conclusion that (alas!) there is no reliable substitute for practice and hard work when it comes to getting ahead in life. This unwelcome news has done little, however, to dissuade millions who are comforted by the prospect that the shortcut to their unfulfilled dreams lies in the fact that they just haven't quite found the secret to tap this vast, allegedly unused cerebral reservoir.

Why would a neuroscientist immediately doubt that 90 percent of the average brain lies perpetually fallow? First of all, it is obvious that the brain, like all our other organs, has been shaped by natural selection. Brain tissue is metabolically expensive both to grow and to run, and it strains credulity to think that evolution would have permitted squandering of resources on a scale necessary to build and maintain such a massively underutilized organ.

Moreover, doubts are fueled by ample evidence from clinical neurology. Losing far less than 90 percent of the brain to accident or disease has catastrophic consequences. What is more, observing the effects of head injury reveals that there does not seem to be any area of the brain that can be destroyed by strokes, head trauma, or other manner, without leaving the patient with some kind of functional deficit. Likewise, electrical stimulation of points in the brain during neurosurgery has failed so far to uncover any dormant areas where no percept, emotion or movement is elicited by applying these tiny currents (this can be done with conscious patients under local anesthetic because the brain itself has no pain receptors).

The past hundred years has seen the advent of increasingly sophisticated technologies for listening in on the functional traffic of the brain. The goal of behavioral neuroscience has been to record electrical, chemical and magnetic changes in brain activity and to correlate them with specific mental and behavioral phenomena.

All told, the foregoing suggests that there is no cerebral spare tire waiting to be mounted in service of one's grade point average, job advancement, or the pursuit of a cure for cancer or the Great American Novel. So, if the 10-percent myth is that implausible, how did it arise? My attempts to track down the origins of the 10-percent myth have not discovered any smoking guns, but some tantalizing clues have emerged.

One stream leads back to the pioneering American psychologist, William James, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition to his voluminous scholarly work, James was a prodigious author of popular articles offering advice to the general public. In these exhortatory works James was fond of stating that the average person rarely achieves but a small portion of his or her potential. I was never able to find an exact percentage mentioned, and James always talked in terms of one's undeveloped potential, apparently never relating this to a specific amount of gray matter engaged.

A generation of "positive thinking" gurus that followed were not so careful, however, and gradually "10 percent of our capacity" morphed into "10 percent of our brain." Undoubtedly, the biggest boost for the self-help entrepreneurs came when the famous adventurer and journalist Lowell Thomas attributed the 10-percent-of-the-brain claim to William James. Thomas did so in the preface he wrote, in 1936, to one of the best-selling self-help books of all time, Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. The myth has never lost its steam since.

Other sources for the ubiquity of the 10-percent myth probably come from popular authors' misconstrual of scientific papers by early brain researchers. For example, in calling (for technical reasons) a huge percentage of the cerebral hemispheres the "silent cortex," early investigators may have left the mistaken impression that what is now referred to as the "association cortex" had no function. That was far from the researchers' intention, but that is what seems to have filtered through to the public.

Likewise, early researchers' appropriately modest admissions that they didn't know what 90 percent of the brain was doing probably fostered the widespread misconception that the leftovers did nothing.

In my quest for the seminal utterance of the 10-percent myth, I frequently came across the claim that Albert Einstein had once explained his own brilliance by reference to the myth--Einstein's enormous prestige, of course, making it unassailable thenceforth. A careful search by the helpful people at the Albert Einstein archives, however, was unable to provide me with any record of such a statement on his part. So it remains probably just another of those instances where promoters with a point or a buck to make have misappropriated the clout of Einstein's name to further their own endeavors.

The 10-percent myth has undoubtedly motivated many people to strive for greater creativity and productivity in their lives--hardly a bad thing. The comfort, encouragement and hope that it has engendered helps explain its longevity. But, like so many uplifting myths that are too good to be true, the truth of the matter seems to be its least important aspect.

Source: Scientific American

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Dormant Powers of the Human Brain

Norman D. Livergood

The conspiracy to reduce consciousness to intellectual awareness of the physical world has been in evidence for at least five thousand years. Over the centuries the mental and psychic powers that only mystics and seers now possess have been filtered out of most people. So we now assume that our narrow, tightly-bound consciousness is normal and natural. "Ordinary consciousness" is "normal" only in the strict sense of "statistically most frequent," not inherently "good" or "natural" as the term is sometimes misconstrued to mean.

When contrasted with supernormal consciousness experienced by certain people in specific instances, our current rigid, intellect-based awareness is highly abnormal and unnatural.

Human beings possess a whole range of dormant powers of which they are usually unaware. Experience of these latent powers occurs accidentally or to those who learn the necessary procedures. These powers include inspiration, clairaudience, clairvoyance, psychometry, precognition, and telepathy. In his book Beyond the Occult, Colin Wilson conjectures that we have gradually lost these powers ". . . because we no longer need them." On the contrary, we have needed and continue to need such powers--for the completion of our human potential and for participating in human evolution.

Our psychic powers have become forgotten and atrophied from neglect because the vast conspiracy of the ideologies of Materialism (there is nothing but matter in space) and Mammon (material wealth as the highest value) have conditioned untold generations to believe that mind-bound consciousness of the physical world is all there is and all that is needed for humankind's wellbeing. Non-ordinary states were said to be psychotic, evil, abnormal or merely debilitating. Persons who even spoke of spiritual or psychic powers were classed as weird, insane, or perverse.

We have very little understanding of "consciousness," since it is by definition a nonmaterial quality or state of being aware. Scientists study only the physical correlates of consciousness, such as brain waves, not consciousness itself.

Neurologists and psychologists for decades agreed that there were specific facts about the brain and intelligence that were unchanging: intelligence is genetically determined; people with high intelligence are born that way; experience can't increase or decrease innate intelligence; experience can't change the structure of the brain; growth in the total number of brain cells we have is completed by age two; neurons cannot reproduce themselves.

However, psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted studies which were to turn the world of brain and intelligence research upside down. They discovered that: rats showed higher levels of AChE (the brain enzyme related to learning and memory) when placed in "enriched environments" (well-lit, multilevel cages filled with swings, slides, ladders, bridges, an assortment of frequently changing stimuli, and a variety of challenges).

Neuroanatomist Marian Diamond proved that rats raised in "enriched environments" showed: increased thickness of the cerebral cortex or "gray matter"; a 15 percent increase in the actual size of individual neurons in the cortex; increases in protein in the brain paralleling the increases in cortical weight; an increase in the amount of dendritic branching; an increased number of dendritic spines per unit length of dendrite; increases in the number of synapses and in the size of synaptic contact areas; an increase in the ratio between the weight of the cortex and the weight of the rest of the brain; a 15 percent increase in the number of glial cells, the "glue" cells that are the most numerous cells in the brain and which hold together, support, and nourish the brain neurons, act as guides for neural growth, assist in learning, and seem to form some mysterious communicating network of their own.

The human brain is about five times as large as that of a chimpanzee, yet contains only about 30 to 50 percent more neurons. The difference between humans and chimps comes from the development of the cerebral cortex and the larger number of glial cells. The cerebral cortex is a layer of nerve cells forming a convoluted outer shell over the brain, the "thinking cap" or "gray matter" atop the brain, in which much of the thinking or higher intellectual activity of the brain takes place.

All these studies focused on one conclusion: increased brain stimulation in an enriched environment produces not only a growth in size and weight of the cortex but completely alters and enriches the quality of the entire cerebral cortex.

Human performance in all areas can be deliberately improved through environmental, biochemical, and psychophysiological manipulation of the brain and mind. One way this takes place is through the use of machines designed by researchers to stimulate the human neocortex through exposure to experiences which are novel, changing, and challenging, and which provide the brain and mind an opportunity to exercise themselves by means of self-observation and self-transformation.

Much more information about stimulating and growing your brain can be found here: Brain, Mind, Altered States

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Thank you,
Andreas Ohrt