A Frenchman shocked the science community when the discovery emerged that he had been living his life — completely normally — without knowing he was missing most of his brain.
In a strange case in 2007, a middle-aged Frenchman with a white-collar job, a wife, and kids, found out he had been living for years without the majority of his brain. Strangely, the condition didn’t seem to bother him at all. His IQ tested slightly low, but other than that, he functioned like any other normal human.
In fact, the discovery was only made because the man checked himself into the hospital for something completely unrelated: a mild weakness in his left leg. As the story goes, he concluded the hospital visit with a cured leg but a different, intriguing, and totally unexpected diagnosis. The neurologist estimated that he was missing more than 50 to 75 percent of his brain.
After the wild discovery, doctors dug a little deeper and learned the man had developed a condition called hydrocephalus when he was six months old. Hydrocephalus occurs when an excess amount of cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in cavities within the brain, and lucky for him, doctors caught it early.
To counter the condition, doctors had inserted a type of medical valve, called a shunt, to ensure the fluid drained properly. They removed the shunt fourteen years later and thought all was well, but they couldn’t have been more wrong. Over the next thirty years, the fluid gradually built up again in the man’s ventricles, causing his inner brain matter to slowly condense until only the outer recesses near the skull remained.
The fact that the man was able to function normally with the majority of his brain dissolved is a staggering truth that scientists don’t fully understand. The parts of the brain that control motion, language, vision, and emotional and cognitive function were severely reduced, but he behaved like anyone with all parts of the brain intact.
As reported by New Scientist, Max Muenxe, a pediatric brain defect specialist at the National Human Genome Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, hypothesized, “If something happens very slowly over quite some time, maybe over decades, the different parts of the brain take up functions that would normally be done by the part that is pushed to the side.”
Basically, scientists have nothing else to explain the incident other than the fact that the human brain is highly adaptable. The case also raises the question of whether a lot of our brain is extraneous. Discover Blogs’ Neuroskeptic explained that the bulk of the man’s grey matter appeared to be intact and in the correct place, and that it was predominantly the white matter that was missing. Perhaps the brain doesn’t need a significant amount of white matter to function properly.
Whatever the explanation may be, it’s extraordinary that a human being could function normally for decades without knowing that his brain was slowly disappearing. Perhaps there are many more out there who are unknowingly living with reduced brains, or perhaps this man will go down in history as the rare, unexplainable individual who defied everything known about the human brain.