Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mysteries of the Human Brain

No one wants to suffer a stroke.  A stroke can lead to the inability to use limbs on one side of the body, the inability see one side of the visual field, or the inability to speak properly.  It could potentially lead to death.

But occasionally, a stroke may cause something a little more unusual to happen.  Such as change someone's accent.  People that develop foreign accent syndrome after having a stroke begin to speak with an accent they didn't speak with prior to having the stroke.  For instance, an American may suddenly start speaking with a British accent.  Or a British person may begin speaking with an Italian accent.  You can read about a couple of cases like this here and here.

That not strange enough for you?  Well how about a case where a stroke caused someone's eyesight to improve?

A grandfather revealed today that a massive stroke miraculously cured his ailing sight.
Malcolm Darby, 70, had worn glasses since the age of two due to measles.
But after suffering a stroke, he found he could suddenly see without any help at all.
Mr Darby, from Oakham, Rutland, Leicestershire, today said he now has "six pairs of glasses I don't need".
He said: "I've worn glasses my whole life. I even had them on when I had my stroke.

But it seems he had to give up one ability to gain that improved eyesight:

He added: "I'm on the mend now, so every cloud has a silver lining, especially with getting my sight back.
"But before the stroke I used to be able to speak French, and now I just can't get a word of it out."
Read the rest of that article here.

It seems the brain can be a rather strange organ.  There's a saying that says we only use 10% of or our brain. That's actually a misnomer...but it may only be 'sort of' a misnomer.  Many people have interpreted that saying to mean there are parts of the brain that aren't used.  That's not true.  We use our whole brain, but the question is are we using our whole brain to its fullest potential?  Savants have special skills that most 'normal' people don't have, such as the ability to calculate complex sums in their head, knowing the time without seeing a clock, or being able to memorize things with great ease.  The incredible memory of some savants has given them the ability to easily memorize books and maps, learn many languages, or play an entire piano concerto after only hearing it once.  The most famous example of a savant is from the movie Rain Man.  Dustin Hoffman plays an autistic savant named Raymond Babbitt, a character based on a real life savant named Kim Peek.

It's not known what gives savants their special abilities.  One popular theory is that damage to one part of the brain causes the brain to overcompensate for the injury in another part of the brain.  Whether or not this theory is accurate, imagine if it were possible for everyone to have all the special abilities savants have been known to have without the autism or brain damage most savants are afflicted with (not all savants are autistic).

If savants are able to do the things they do, then obviously the brain is capable of doing those things.  So are the rest of us using our brains to the fullest potential?  Could the rest of us learn those special abilities without limiting the potential of another part of the brain?  Could our entire brain operate at those higher levels?  Or are our brains intended to be 'balanced' the way they are?  Are our brains limited by a certain amount of potential and that potential is just balanced throughout the entire brain in most of us?  Or is the potential unlimited?

I'd like to think the potential is unlimited.


  1. Awesome examples of the brain's mysteries!

  2. Yeah, another thing to consider is how different IQ levels can be in 'normal' people. Some are low, some are high, most are in between. We all have things were good at though, whether it be art, music, writing, analyzing things, building things, inventing things, etc. And even among those categories there can be so much variety. There are so many ways to be unique.