Biological Theory

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 336–342 | Cite as

Wittgenstein’s Certainty is Uncertain: Brain Scans of Cured Hydrocephalics Challenge Cherished Assumptions

  • Donald R. ForsdykeEmail author
Original Article


The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein chose as his prime exemplar of certainty the fact that the skulls of normal people are filled with neural tissue, not sawdust. In 1980 the British pediatrician John Lorber reported that some normal adults, apparently cured of childhood hydrocephaly, had no more than 5 % of the volume of normal brain tissue. While initially disbelieved, Lorber’s observations have since been independently confirmed by clinicians in France and Brazil. Thus Wittgenstein’s certainty has become uncertain. Furthermore, the paradox that the human brain’s information content (memory) appears to exceed the storage capacity of even normal-sized brains, requires resolution. This article is one of a series on disparities between brain size and its assumed information content, as seen in cases of savant syndrome, microcephaly, and hydrocephaly, and with special reference to the Victorian era views of Conan Doyle, Samuel Butler, and Darwin’s research associate, George Romanes. The articles argue that, albeit unlikely, the scope of explanations must not exclude extracorporeal information storage.


Female brain Head size Information storage capacity Long-term memory John Lorber Neuronal reductionism Plasticity limits Redundancy Supernatural explanations Ventricle size 


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biomedical and Molecular SciencesQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada

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