One might propose that since we have yet to transplant someone’s brain maybe we are the brain. Or perhaps we are the neurons that make up the brain.
The famous neurosurgical experiments documented by Dr. Wilder Penfield gave many the first glimpse into the brain. With the patient awake and able to respond, Dr. Penfield was able to stimulate particular memories in the patient along with other sensory impressions by touching certain parts of the patient's brain during brain surgery.
These results and their many confirming experiments left doctors with an impression that life must reside in the brain since emotional memories were stimulated with the electrode testing.
However, this assumption is disputed by later brain research over the past fifty years on both humans and animals. The assumption that the emotional self is contained in the brain has been conflicted by the many cases of a patient's emotions and memory remaining after parts of their brain had been removed. Some patients that had a majority of the brain removed still exhibited emotions and memory.
Furthermore, there are a few documented cases where people have had little in the way of brains, yet they still had memories and cognition.
But wait, isn't the brain the location of the storage of all of these memories and impressions?
Moving brain function and memoryThe research of Dr. Karl Lashley in the 1920s tried to find what he called the "engram" - or specific locations where different types of memories are stored. Surprisingly, he found that different people and animals store similar types of memories in different places instead of in the same place. He concluded that memories can be stored throughout the brain - not just in selected locations.
This was also the conclusion of Dr. Penfield, mentioned above. During his neural stimulation research, Dr. Penfield found once again that different memories could be triggered from different places in different people.
Neural stimulation triggers were often found among the temporal lobes - located on the each side of the brain. But within these two lobes, the precise location of each triggered memory was again found to often be in different places - depending upon the person.
The problem this research produced was the assumption that the brain was an organ with different parts performing specific functions could not be substantiated. It was inconceivable that functions could be moved to different parts of the brain if needed. So neurologists had to go back to the drawing board.
NeuroplascticityThis anomaly was eventually called neuroplasticity. First it explained the ability of triggers for the recall of memories potentially being located in slightly different locations within the brain, depending upon the person.
Over the years, neuroplasticity was expanded to encompass the ability of many brain functions to be located in different parts of the brain: This is notable among cases where part of the brain has been damaged by stroke or trauma.
In these cases of stroke or brain trauma, often the patient will recover motion or other neurological function even though the part of the brain that previously controlled that is now dead. MRI research has found those neurological functions have been moved to other brain regions.
Neuroplasticity has also been seen in cases where children have been born with little or no brain - yet surprisingly have the ability to think and act as if they had a normal brain. What neurologists have found is that those functions commonly located in regions of normal brains have moved to other locations. These include the remaining brainstem and spinal cord.
Can someone really survive with no brain?Absolutely. This has been seen numerous times. Recently, for example, a child was born in 2013 completely without a brain - only a brainstem. Aaron - the child - just celebrated his second year of life and still is without a brain. He recently said his first word, "mummy." Yet here is what the mother was told when the child was born:
"A brain scan carried out on Aaron had revealed only his brain stem had properly formed"
This is technically called holoprosencephaly - and will occur once in about 5,000 births. Often the baby will die, but then there are those babies who defy the presumption that a typical brain is required for life - and continue to live - like Aaron.
Confirmation by hemidecorticationBut this understanding that the brain's functions can be relocated is not new. It has also been found among many cases of hemidecortication - when a major part of the brain - an entire cortex or even half the brain - has been surgically removed.
It was assumed in early hemidecortication surgeries - done after accidents or other extreme situations - that the brain would lose all the function of that cortex or region removed. But surprisingly, in many cases, the person eventually resumes normal activity. In these cases, it is found that the functions of the brain previously stored in the removed area has now been stored in the remaining portion of the brain tissues.
According to a substantial review done by Vargha-Khadem and Polkey (1992), numerous hemidecortication surgeries had to that point been conducted for a number of disorders. In a majority of these cases, cognition and brain function continued uninterrupted.
A few cases even documented an improvement in cognition. Additionally, in numerous cases of intractable seizures, where substantial parts of brain have been damaged, substantial cognitive recovery resulted in 80 to 90% of the cases.
Who decides where brain functions get moved?After many studies with MRI and other brain imaging, brain researchers have found that while memory location storage might be organized using the pallium, hippocampus or elsewhere, signaling from the frontal cortex appears to determine more precisely which memories will be kept and ultimately where they will be kept and how they will be sorted.
The frontal cortex has been called the brain's control mechanism. We might compare it to a control panel or a keyboard on a computer.
So who is the operator of that control panel or computer keyboard of the brain? Who is operating the frontal cortex? Since memories and brain functions can be moved, and are often stored differently by different people, and the memories we keep handy are being determined through the means of the frontal cortex, there must be an operator behind the frontal cortex:
This is the living being: The spirit-person within.
The enduring self withinThis research described above illustrates that the inner self is not reduced by brain damage or removal. The same person remains after brain parts are removed. The same personality remains. Many retain all their memories. The majority of brain-damaged stroke patients go about living normal lives afterward as well.
Even in cases where memory, cognitive and/or motor skills are affected by cerebrovascular stroke, the person within is still present. Though handicapped, the person remains unaffected by the brain damage.
Over the past few decades, we have seen tremendous advances in science, as those who are unable to speak - are able to speak by having their brain connected to a computer with electrodes, allowing the person to use the computer as a virtual communication device. The computer is basically replacing part of the brain that used to operate the mouth and larynx.
The artificial brainOne of the main functions of the brain is to operate the body. The impulses that drive and coordinate movement originates within the brain's motor cortex. Electrical signals are transmitted from the motor cortex through the central nervous system and the nerves, directly to skeletal muscles. These impulses in turn drive movement as the muscles are stimulated.
This is certainly a physiological system - a mechanical system. Can this mechanical system be duplicated?
At Duke University, scientists have in essence, duplicated this technology. While certainly not as sophisticated as the physical body, they have been able to create machinery to produce similar effects. Researchers have now been able to duplicate some of the brain and CNS motor operations to enable those who cannot walk or otherwise move to operate a sort of bionic body.
They utilize a computer and relay system is set up to relay information into what is called a "pneumaticallly powered exoskeleton." The person's body is placed within this exoskeleton - sort of like a robotic suit - to help those whose bodies have become paralyzed or otherwise not operational - so the exoskeleton does the walking and moving with their paralyzed bodies placed inside.
Using this device, part of the brain is connected with electrodes to a computer, and the computer sends signals to a sort of suit - the exoskeleton. As the person desires to move, the person sends signals to the computer and the computer sends signals to the suit machinery, to move this leg or move that arm. So the exoskeleton moves - just as the body is set up to move - through electrical signals sent through a relay system from a computer. Here is a short video illustrating this artificial brain of sorts:
The contraption - the computer and relay system combined with the exoskeleton suit - is duplicating the operations of the motor cortex - which pushes electrical signals from the brain to the parts of the body the person wants to operate. Some are calling this the "bionic brain."
In other words, a machine has been designed to duplicate what the motor cortex of the brain does. What does this make the brain? A machine - a tool we use in order to operate the body and navigate the physical world. Just as the person using the exoskeleton can take this device off and remain alive, the person who is operating the brain is separate from the brain.
So who is operating the brain? Just as we see in the new exoskeleton and bionic brain that someone has to be there to send the signals into the computer to operate the exoskeleton, there must be someone within who is operating the brain, enabling it to send signals through our body, as well as compute things taken in by the senses.
Who ultimately operates the brain?Who is that person within who is operating the brain? It is the nonmaterial self. It is you.
Personality and the self-perception are not brain-dependent. Many organisms exert personality and perception without even having a brain. Bacteria, for example, do not have brains, yet they can identify and memorize a wide variety of skills and events, including what damaged or helped them (self-perception) in the past. Other organisms such as plants, nematodes and others maintain self-perception and even memory without having brains or even central nervous systems.
MRI and CT brain scans on patients following brain injuries or strokes have shown that particular functions will often move from one part of the brain to another after the functioning area was damaged.
We must therefore ask: Who or what is it that moves these physical functions from one part of the brain to another? Is the damaged brain area making this decision? That would not make sense. Some other guiding function must be orchestrating this move of the function. What or who is guiding this process?
The retention of memory, emotion, and the moving of brain function from one part of the brain to another is more evidence of a deeper mechanism; an operator or driver within the body who is utilizing the brain—rather than being the brain. The driver is the continuing element.
Physical structures - inclusive of memories and emotions - continually undergo change, while the driver remains, adapting to those changes.
The spirit-person - each of us - is of a substance different from the physical body. This spirit-person is operating the brain - just as a person might operate a computer.