Strange brain disease helps science better understand how the brain receives information

This man's inability to read numbers can tell us more about how the human brain works. The scientific report on the strange disease shows that our brain can recognize complex concepts like numbers before the brain has finished processing incoming information through the eyes.

The man in the study is called RFS . By the end of 2010, he experienced many chronic headaches, dementia and the symptoms of neurological instability. In early 2011, RFS was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disorder called corticobasal syndrome (CBS) - a disease that often appears in the elderly (RFS was over 60) and caused muscle spasms and loss. ability to move limbs and many other sensory problems. The disease progresses over time.

In addition to the above symptoms, RFS told the doctor that he could not see the numbers 2 to 9 ; Sitting across from them, he could only see zigzag black lines. If the numbers above are colored, they will turn into the background color below the black lines. Over and over again, those stray lines will change, leaving RFS unable to format the numbers it sees.

Picture 1 of Strange brain disease helps science better understand how the brain receives information

Immediately after reflecting on the strange phenomenon with the doctors who were taking care of him, the neuroscientists immediately noticed the strange phenomenon and conducted RFS brain research for the next 8 years. New report results are published in the prestigious journal PNAS.

' The problem is, he's very good at talking. He is an engineer, often working with numbers. He can still do math, still understand what numbers are and how to manipulate them, '' said Michael McCloskey, research author and cognitive scientist at John Hopkins University. ' When you look at numbers, like 8 or 3, for example, they are all chaotic - they say they look like spaghetti noodles scattered .'

This is very strange, because many other characters and characters are also shaped like numbers, such as the letter 'B' looks very similar to the number '8', but Mr. RFS has no problem looking at the characters. that. Although he did not see the letters as M, N, P, R, S, Z very clearly, he could identify them. RFS also read the normal Roman numbers, still able to clearly see the digits '0' and '1', only the numbers 2 to 9 confused him.

Picture 2 of Strange brain disease helps science better understand how the brain receives information
Mr. RFS redraws what he sees on the screen.

After years of working with the strange brain of RFS, Professor McCloskey and his team showed that the brain can automatically process information without our knowledge . Through the electroencephalography system, they measure the brain activity of RFS as he observes the confusion, as he looks at familiar faces and words. The team discovered some interesting points: the parts of the brain light up when Mr. RFS looks at different things.

' He didn't know what words he was looking at or what face he was looking at. However, it seems that his brain not only knows what the eye is looking at, it also conducts complex analysis of what is in front of him, '' said David Rothlein, co-author of the study. ' [Object perception] is thought to occur naturally. But research shows only that an extremely complex process - what we call high-level awareness - takes place without the subject knowing what they're looking at . '

In other words, at least one unknown step appears when the brain determines a complex concept like numbers, which comes in the middle of the information being transmitted into our perception to process. Most likely, these complex information is transmitted to a high level area of ​​the brain before being perceived to be processed, and it is likely that information must run back and forth between these two places for the brain to understand the problem. This is also a hypothesis many scientists have raised.

Although it is unclear what the process is, it is clear that Mr. RFS sees things in trouble; Up to now, Mr. RFS is the only one with this strange disease . After years of research, the team of scientists also found a way to help Mr. RFS: they created his own arithmetic system, allowing RFS to live normally, even to work until he decided. He plans to retire in 2014. Currently, illness has made Mr. RFS much weaker, but he is still largely cognitive.

Picture 3 of Strange brain disease helps science better understand how the brain receives information
Digital system allows Mr. RFS to work normally.

The team's eight-year research effort can help us gain vital information about how the brain works. ' Rare cases like these shed light on the way the brain works, in a way that no other method satisfies ,' Professor Rothlein said.

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