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Brain That Changes Itself: into the abyss - Comments

Jay Cee's Avatar Comment 1 by Jay Cee

I reccommend reading Oliver Sacks' "The man who mistook his wife for a hat" which is full of fascinating neurological disorders.

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 10:43:00 UTC | #208920

8teist's Avatar Comment 2 by 8teist

Hmmmmmm,what should I trust? medical science or prayer........oh ,the dilemma ;)

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 11:22:00 UTC | #208961

Border Collie's Avatar Comment 3 by Border Collie

Fantastic story ...

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 11:47:00 UTC | #208979

SomeDanGuy's Avatar Comment 4 by SomeDanGuy
God I'd love to get a postdoc position in this sort of field...

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 12:18:00 UTC | #209003

mufcaholic's Avatar Comment 5 by mufcaholic

Thats one of the best stories in a long time, and nice to learn something a bit more out of the ordinary. I'm quite new to this site specifically, so its nice to see theres a lot of related and unrelated things to learn, I love it!

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 14:17:00 UTC | #209098

kkelly's Avatar Comment 6 by kkelly

This really surprises me that it worked instantly. I would have thought it would take time for reorganization, but it looks like reorganization was not involved. How the brain just "knew" what to do with the input from the tongue, to link it up with crosstalk from the balance tracts to the eyes for example, I have no clue.

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 14:26:00 UTC | #209105

ConsciousMachine's Avatar Comment 7 by ConsciousMachine

It is obvious that this is evidence that God Intelligently Designed us with this capacity for plasticity in our brains. This design was put there to test us by giving us the opportunity to rise to the challenge of reshaping our brain structures when they are damaged. And also to test others by giving them an opportunity to show the patience and compassion needed to carry them through the long rehabilitation process involved in reshaping a damaged brain.

Clearly and without question Godidit.

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 15:34:00 UTC | #209133

BathTub's Avatar Comment 8 by BathTub

Wow, what an amazing story/Doctor.

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 16:53:00 UTC | #209151

Gems's Avatar Comment 9 by Gems

Interesting article. Can anyone help me to understand how the artificial vestibular apparatus continued to have an effect after the patient removed it from her tongue i.e. how is there a residual effect? The article says:

The jerking has stopped, and her brain is decoding signals from her artificial vestibular apparatus.

...somehow these tingling sensations on her tongue are making their way, through a novel pathway in the brain, to the area that processes balance.

Perhaps I'm missing something obvious, but I would have thought that her tongue needed to continue to receive electric signals from the device (which her brain has learnt to interpret in order for her to keep her balance) in order for the effect to last? Can anyone shed any light?

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 17:02:00 UTC | #209154

The Schuermannator's Avatar Comment 10 by The Schuermannator


I definitely plan on picking that book up sometime. I'm currently reading Phantoms in the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran. Holy cow, I've never been so amazed as to how our brains (mis)function. 'Rama' has a great sense of humor, too, as anyone who's watched the Beyond Belief 2006 vidoes will note.

Yes, what a wonderful story this was. I imagine Richard himself is beyond fascinated learning things like this... Only goes to show reality is stranger than fiction.

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 17:16:00 UTC | #209160

The Schuermannator's Avatar Comment 11 by The Schuermannator

Gems -

Here's an analogy that may be helpful: If you were to attempt learning a new language you must go to class everyday to learn the new way of speaking. Once your brain has learned the new language you can walk away from the classes and continue to speak your new language fluently.

Otherwise, my guess is that the machine is there to say "Hey brain! This is where you need to get your balancing information from. Don't worry about that vestibular thing anymore." After repeating that enough times the brain understands that the vestibular apparatus is history and the tongue is the new sensory device.

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 17:50:00 UTC | #209168

skip's Avatar Comment 12 by skip

I thoroughly enjoyed this article. As a student of psychology I sense that we are in the beginnings of a renaissance period with regard to neuropsychology . There is new hope for those who suffer from cognitive disease.

Great article!

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 17:53:00 UTC | #209169

kkelly's Avatar Comment 13 by kkelly

9, I don't think you're missing the obvious, I don't get it either and they didn't explain it.

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 17:54:00 UTC | #209171

kkelly's Avatar Comment 14 by kkelly

11, so then she has to keep touching her tongue to the roof of her mouth or something? Like, if she leans left, she touches the right side of her mouth?

If her normal vestibular apparatus only worked with constant input from the hairs in the tubes (if I remember how it works), then why would it be different just because the place of the input changed.

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 18:07:00 UTC | #209172

TonyA's Avatar Comment 15 by TonyA

Suppose she only lost 95% of her vestibular function. Maybe her brain suddenly perceived the sharp reduction of data as a total loss of data, something like falling below the squelch level. The tongue treatment might be teaching the brain to reactivate the balance centers and readjust the level of input necessary to control those centers. It is thus possible that the brain is being trained to operate on only 5% of the original input.

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 18:35:00 UTC | #209177

SteveO's Avatar Comment 17 by SteveO

A great article from a fascinating book. If you enjoy this subject matter you might also want to check out "This Is Your Brain On Music" by Daniel Levitin. Between these two books (although mostly Levitin's as music is another passion of mine) I was inspired to start working towards an education in the cognitive sciences.

Re. #9: I don't remember the particulars, but it may have had something to do with her brain learning to perform balance functions using alternate stimulus (ie. visual) after reinforcing it sufficiently with another sense (similar to the mirror treatment for phantom limbs). I read it a while back though so I'm just guessing.

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 19:38:00 UTC | #209195

GoodLittleAtheist's Avatar Comment 16 by GoodLittleAtheist

I bought the book this summer. It is fascinating. I highly recommend it.

Gems, et al.

I can't find my copy at the moment, so I will have to rely on my memory (which is poor), and I am also speculating a bit so take it with a grain of salt. But what I inferred from the book is that the vestibular system was damaged but that they don't really know which parts were/are damaged. So it is possible that part of the system in the ear IS still functioning but the system overall has massive defects. By training the brain to use input from the tongue, the brain is rewiring itself so it 'knows' how to route stimuli through new undamaged pathways to the part of the brain that processes orientation, etc. When the tongue stimulus is removed, the parts of the vestibular system that survived the damaging episode can now use this new pathway. (Or maybe it was using the tongue to tie visual stimula into the system. I can't remember, but I guess all they'd have to do is have her close her eyes and see if she falls down.) Probably what is happening with effect lasting a bit longer after every training, is that the old pathway, though damaged, is well-worn as the main highway for these signals. The brain prefers to use that pathway. The training builds up a new path, but at first it is just a small road in comparison. The more training is done, the more well-worn the path becomes, until eventually it becomes so well-worn (and the damaged path so weeded up from disuse) that it becomes the new highway for these signals.

Like I said, grain of salt. But I think a lot of this stuff is in its infancy anyway, and it seems like the interpretations involve a lot of speculating, so why can't I? :)

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 19:38:00 UTC | #209194

Mal3's Avatar Comment 18 by Mal3


One way it could work is reorienting her senses to work through her eyes again. She's combining the sensory input through the tongue apparatus with the visual data, in effect training her eyes to affect her balance without the bit of her brain that was damaged.

She was balancing with her eyes alone, I think.

Mon, 28 Jul 2008 20:44:00 UTC | #209208

TonyA's Avatar Comment 19 by TonyA

She was balancing with her eyes alone, I think.
The article says, "She gives a big grin, stands free with her eyes closed, and does not fall." Something besides the tongue and the eyes are helping her balance. I still like my hypothesis, weak as it is. Of course we have nearly no actual data.

Tue, 29 Jul 2008 01:07:00 UTC | #209271

Pete H's Avatar Comment 20 by Pete H


I've also read Levitin's book 'This is Your Brain on Music'.

You're right. It's much more than a book about music. I've recommended it to everyone I know with an interest in music.

The 10,000 hours expertise aspect is inspiring - and daunting, but still feasible. I'm less ambitiously applying the 80:20 rule and hope to be a barely adequate performer (sub-Mozart / Hendrix level) after only about 2,000 hours of emotionally engaged practise.

I thought a very significant aspect of his book was outlining the theory that music capabilities (sophisticated mental processing and pattern recognition in rhythm, timbre, and overtone series) are a critical part of sensing the threats and opportunities and structure of the dynamic spatial environment. This is the incremental evolutionary basis for the development of sexual display via sound and dance - most obvious in birds etc. and forms the basis for language in humans.

Add a little basic economics and you are led to viewing language as an incrementally evolving means of augmenting group cooperation. Simple maths of comparative advantage reveals the extraordinary non-linear benefits available once evolutionary processes allow organisms to blunder within range of complex and intelligent group cooperation. Aka capital growth.

The intelligence required to exploit more sophisticated cooperation, well beyond instinct, must have evolved simultaneously with the growing complexity of cooperative opportunities enabled by language. Underpinning all this is the evolving complexity of empathy, ethics, and morality.

Evolution requires incremental modification of existing systems. Sophisticated cooperation is not possible without empathy (many other animals depend on empathy, if only to identify and exploit weakened prey), plus morality - which is further processing to model and forecast the longer-term implications of various options apparent via empathy.

My interpretation is that humans' sophisticated empathy and morality must have preceded language, because language can only enhance the efficiency of something that is already happening. Otherwise it wouldn't be an evolutionary plausible incremental movement. This implies that morality is no more taught or communicated verbally than is learning to walk and run on 2 legs. (This also implies that various degrees of morality probably won't be unique to humans). Which pretty much undermines supernatural, religious reliance on the necessity of various moral codes.

If you're interested, the audiobook version is on various torrents.

Tue, 29 Jul 2008 02:50:00 UTC | #209289

Ishruul's Avatar Comment 21 by Ishruul

I'm still not convince.

There's no way the doctor could have manage to heal her like that. I suspect she prayed everynight and god healed her because she has faith, not because of some construction hat with electronic wires, it doesn't make sense.

Take that science, trying to leech of the success of god divine healing, have you no shame!!!!

P.S. Science's achievement kick god's ass everyday!

Tue, 29 Jul 2008 04:39:00 UTC | #209336

hawt4dawk's Avatar Comment 22 by hawt4dawk

Yay, neuroscience!! I really enjoyed this article. Bach y Rita and his brother George are true heroes!!

1. Comment #220383 by JAMCAM87
I reccommend reading Oliver Sacks' "The man who mistook his wife for a hat" which is full of fascinating neurological disorders.

This was a really fascinating read.

Thanks to SteveO and Disparacist for mentioning This is your brain on music sounds interesting.

I recommend:

Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life by Steven Johnson

Tue, 29 Jul 2008 05:49:00 UTC | #209387

Rob Schneider's Avatar Comment 24 by Rob Schneider

I don't know if this is the same doctor, but about 5 years ago I heard of a person who was taught to SEE via the tongue. A permanently implanted electro-stimulation unit, laid out in an array across the tastebuds, would provide a pixel like matrix of shocks that the brain learned to decode as visual information.

The funny part is imagining this person walking around with his/her tongue stuck out all the time so as to see.

Amazing research and discoveries, however!!

Tue, 29 Jul 2008 06:03:00 UTC | #209401

j.mills's Avatar Comment 23 by j.mills

Like, wow, man!

Tue, 29 Jul 2008 06:03:00 UTC | #209400

schmeer's Avatar Comment 25 by schmeer

Since the patient was able to balance with eyes closed after removing the helmet, it sounds like the brain was learning to reroute information from a semi-functioning vestibular apparatus. Without the helmet-to-tongue device, visual information or a functioning vestibular apparatus there may also be sensory information that we aren't thinking of right now. Maybe she was learning to balance with feedback from the pressure sensors in her feet and legs.

Tue, 29 Jul 2008 06:10:00 UTC | #209410

born-again-atheist's Avatar Comment 26 by born-again-atheist

Wow... holy... that's epic.

But I didn't think the doc's ideas were too radical.. I thought it was normal to understand that if we could mimic the signals from lost senses the brain could function... maybe I've just been listening to some strange people.

Tue, 29 Jul 2008 07:34:00 UTC | #209468

dansam's Avatar Comment 27 by dansam

Truly an inspiring article!

Tue, 29 Jul 2008 08:02:00 UTC | #209497

asupcb's Avatar Comment 28 by asupcb

Who knew your tongue could be so useful? What a truly under-appreciated organ :)

Tue, 29 Jul 2008 11:30:00 UTC | #209699

Stafford Gordon's Avatar Comment 29 by Stafford Gordon

There's hope for me yet!

Tue, 29 Jul 2008 12:45:00 UTC | #209798

Edouard Pernod's Avatar Comment 30 by Edouard Pernod

I'm in the beginning stages of doing pre-med, with a plan to focus on neurology in medical school. Ironically the person who got me on the path to pursuing it is a devout Christian pediatric Neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins by the name of Ben Carson. He spoke at my Christian school when I was young, and told all these amazing stories about operations he had conducted on children with nasty tumors and in a few cases conjoined twins who were joined at the head. He mentioned their recovery being assisted by what he called "neuroplasticity" which I guess he assumed was happening because the child's brain is growing because they are young. That motivated me to do some volunteer work with this one local family whose daughter had some nasty mid-brain and brain stem infarcts when she was born due to lack of Oxygen. She couldn't move on her own, just flailed about and couldn't hold her head still or really control her eyes very well. We did something experimental at the time called "patterning", much like what Bach-Y-Ricta's brother did with his father who had suffered a stroke. We would spend an hour per day literally holding her on a table and moving her arms and legs in small crawling patterns, and would turn her head like a baby would turn theirs when they would crawl. Eventually she did regain limited control of some of her limbs, suggesting neuroplasticity was real. Unfortunately after a year of this she didn't have quite enough control, and managed to get ahold of her younger sister's blanket one night, got tangled up in it and suffocated. The family who I was helping was pretty religious, and they saw it as god's merciful way of alleviating their daughter's suffering. I thought that view was absolute rubbish, indicative that if God was so cruel as to create this brain damaged kid only to kill her once she started making noticeable progress, then I'd rather not believe in him at all. So ironically it was this pursuit of neuroplasticity which planted the seeds of both atheism and pursuit of neurology in my mind.

But enough about me, the work this Bach-Y-Ricta guy is doing sounds amazing. I've been reading about similar neuroplastic approaches in creating neural prosthetics which would allow amputees to "feel" sensation in long gone limbs, through electrical stimulation to certain facio-cranial nerves. How cool is it that we are figuring out how to fix or modify broken brains?

Wed, 30 Jul 2008 16:03:00 UTC | #210586