Scientists know that one important way to gain insight into how the human mind works is by observing what happens when it experiences a disfunction. In this regard, scientists have documented some rare but remarkable neurological conditions and diseases.
The normal function of the brain may be altered as a result of a surgical procedure.
In the second half of the twentieth century, doctors carried out a radical surgery that severed the connections between the two hemispheres of the brain to treat uncurable seizures. While this procedure was effective at stopping the seizures, it would leave both brain hemispheres unable to share information and coordinate with each other. These split-brain patients have been objects of much research that has allowed scientists to gain insight into how the brain normally works.
In humans, the right hemisphere receives nerve inputs from and controls the left side of the body, whereas the left hemisphere does likewise with the right half. With regards to vision, the left hemisphere receives information about the right side of the visual field (it cannot see the left side) with the opposite happening with the right hemisphere. Using this information, scientists were able to relay questions to the subjects and make them perform tasks in such a way that they could discriminate between the responses and performance of the right and the left hemispheres, and what they found was amazing.
They discovered that the two hemispheres often displayed separate personalities and held different beliefs with one split brain patient famously answering the question “Do you believe in God?” with a “Yes” by one hemisphere and a “No” by the other. They also found that the communication between both hemispheres was required for exercising normal moral judgement in fast answers to specific questions.
The normal function of the brain may also be altered as a result of a disease or a traumatic event.
This one is also called, “The Walking Corpse Syndrome” because the individuals afflicted by it develop what are called nihilistic delusions in which they perceive themselves, or some of their body parts, to be dead, dying, or to not exist at all. People with this affliction will reduce food intake or stop eating because they have no use for this activity as they believe themselves to be dead after all. Some patients will spend an inordinate amount of time in cemeteries. Cotard’s Syndrome is often associated with other conditions ranging from severe depression to neurological conditions and diseases.
Alien Hand Syndrome
In this curious disease, one of the hands of a person will start moving on its own without the person being able to control it. The hand will perform purposeful tasks sometimes repeatedly, and may even antagonize things the other hand has just done such as buttoning a button. Alien Hand Syndrome is associated with conditions that cause trauma to the brain and neurodegenerative diseases.
Dissociative Identity Disorder
This disorder, which in the past was called Multiple Personality Disorder, is a situation where the identity of a person is split among at least two separate identities that take control over the individual. Each identity may have their own name, sex, race, and psychological and physical characteristics. Dissociative Identity Disorder is associated with the suffering of psychological trauma specially during childhood.
People affected with Apotemnophilia have an overwhelming desire to amputate their limbs, with some expressing a wish to be paralyzed. Some of the afflicted individuals perform the amputations themselves or ask their friends, relatives, and health practitioners to help them with the process. Although scientists still don’t know what causes the condition, a possible explanation is a faulty representation of the limbs in the areas of the brain that deal with self-recognition of body structures.
Boanthropy, Clinical Lycanthropy, and Clinical Zoanthropy
Boanthropy is a condition where the affected persons believe themselves to be a cow or ox. They will actually go over to pastures, get down on all fours, and eat grass. Clinical Lycanthropy involves people who think they are turning into werewolves. These people see their bodies covered with hair and their fingernails and teeth elongated. These two conditions are cases of the broader disease called Zoanthropy where people believe themselves to have turned into various animals. Some of these conditions are associated with diagnosed mental diseases such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or severe depression.
So, what does the information I presented above reveal about ourselves and our brains?
Most people accept that the brain plays a key role in movement. Individuals who break their spinal columns may be unable to move their limbs. I have posted a video of the time I had Bell’s Palsy where a malfunction in a nerve paralyzed half of my face. Similarly, most people accept the role that the brain plays in processes such as learning, perception, and memory, and there are many examples of accidents or diseases that have led to impairment of these processes.
Nevertheless, despite the acceptance of the role of the brain in determining the processes described above, many people believe the human mind is something special. These people believe that there is something else, whether you call it soul, spirit, essence, or any other such term, that is responsible for the most fundamental aspects of the human mind which they believe cannot just merely be produced by a bunch or nerve cells.
However, the pathologies or conditions I have listed in this post and others indicate to us the importance of the brain not just in determining obvious things like movement, learning, perception, and memory, but also in determining things that lie at the very core of our humanity such as who we are, how we see ourselves, and what we believe in. If a bunch of nerve cells can create movement, learning, perception, and memory, why can’t they also determine our very nature? Much in the same way that the intestines can create digestion, why can’t the brain create the mind?
Of course, science cannot say anything about the existence of a soul, essence, or spirit, but what we can say at this moment is that all the evidence we have so far indicates that everything that you are seems to be nothing more than the result of millions of nerve cells in your head communicating with each other in different patterns and at different times.
Boggles the mind, eh?
The image is from Pixabay is free for commercial use.