In order to see, a part of the brain known as the visual cortex must receive and process signals from the optic nerve. If this part of the brain is missing, a person is unable to see. Or so scientists have believed until recently.

A seven-year-old boy in Australia has baffled scientists by showing signs of minimal eyesight. The boy, who has a rare metabolic disorder that has left him without a visual cortex, can see well enough to play certain games and recognize people. Fascinated with his case, the researchers have studied the boy and reported their findings to the Australasian Neuroscience Society. According to the research team, the boy seems to have no difficulty navigating around. Looking at him, someone would assume he has no problem with his eyesight.

Published in Our Blog
Saturday, 23 November 2013 00:00

This Is Your Brain on Minicomputers

"His brain is like a computer." "I think of that and my head just goes (insert explosive sound here)!" "She knew the answer before the question ended."

The human brain has long been known as a sophisticated computer. Now, a new study says that groups of microscopic brain cells formerly regarded as mere wiring deserve a special classification: Minicomputers carrying out groups of complex tasks -- boosting the brain's processing power far greater than what scientists originally believed.

"Imagine you're reverse engineering a piece of alien technology, and what you thought was simple wiring turns out to be transistors that compute information," said neuroscientist Spencer Smith, also the study's lead author. "That's what this finding is like. The implications are exciting to think about."

How exciting? Functions that were previously thought to have been handled by an entire neuron -- which can be thought of as switching stations that process the brain's electronic signals -- now look to be handled by only one portion of the neuron's many branches. Which frees up the rest of that neuron -- as well as many of the other 100 million neurons stuffed into your skull -- to handle even more processes. Just like minicomputers can handle more than one process at a time. Usually.

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