Ben Carson Has Some Curious Thoughts About The Human Brain


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer


Dr Carson, the new HUD Secretary, making his inaugural speech to staff. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump has some, shall we say, “curious” thoughts about the wind. It’s a shame, but we suppose he’s not an expert in climatic phenomena. Betsy DeVos, however, should be an expert on schools, but she also has some rather curious thoughts on education – this, indeed, is worrying.

And then there’s Ben Carson, a truly unusual man in many ways. He’s the Housing and Urban Development Secretary, and during his inaugural talk to his new staff, he referred to slaves being forced against their will to come to the US back in the day as “immigrants.”


That, indeed, is another curious thought. At the same meeting, Dr Carson – a highly qualified and once-pioneering neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital – also carpet bombed the audience with some facts about the brain. As reported by Wired, this is what he said:

“It remembers everything you’ve ever seen. Everything you’ve ever heard,” he bombastically began. “I could take the oldest person here, make a hole right here on the side of the head, and put some depth electrodes into their hippocampus and stimulate, and they would be able to recite back to you verbatim a book they read 60 years ago.”

There’s just a bit of teeny problem with all this – it’s not true. The brain does not remember everything you’ve ever seen, and frankly, most old people wouldn’t like Carson to start trepanning them at will. Just think about it – do you remember what you were doing this time today 10 years ago? Can you even recall what you ate for lunch last Tuesday?

Additionally, scientists do not have the ability at present to electrocute the brain in such a way that memories suddenly reappear. They can do amazing things, sure, like getting a quadriplegic’s brain stimulated enough to let them regain movement in their limbs – but the architecture of the brain remains incredibly mysterious.


Wow. No, no no no.

Carson, however, wasn’t finished.

“[Your brain] can process more than 2 million bits of information per second. You can’t overload it. Have you ever heard people say, ‘Don’t do all that, you’ll overload your brain.’”

“You can’t overload the human brain. If you learned one new fact every second, it would take you more than 3 million years to challenge the capacity of your brain,” he concluded.


It’s not clear at all where this 3 million years figure has come from, or what “challenge the capacity of your brain” means in a technical sense. The brain can only handle so many tasks at once before slipping up – but this happens every week, not once every 3 million years.

In short, Carson gave the audience a lecture in Alternative Neuroscience – a tad curious, considering his background.


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