From Publishers Weekly
What does an amputee who still feels a phantom limb have in common with an avant-garde artist, or a schizophrenic who claims to be controlled by alien implants, or an autistic child who can draw a hyper-realistic horse? According to neuroscientist Ramachandran (coauthor, Phantoms in the Brain), named by Newsweek one of the 100 people to watch in the 21st century, the answer lies deep in the physical structures of the brain, and his new book offers a thought-provoking survey of his area of research. Through examples, anecdotes and conjecture, Ramachandran aims "to make neuroscience... more accessible to a broad audience." In this he succeeds admirably, explaining how the roots of both psychological disorders and aesthetic accomplishment can be located in the various regions of the brain and the connections (or lack thereof) between them. The text is engaging and readable , feeling as though Ramachandran had sat down for an afternoon to explain his research over tea (no surprise, as the book grew out of the author's 2003 BBC Reith lectures). Though the topic of neuroscience might initially seem daunting, readers who enjoy science popularization in the vein of Oliver Sacks, Richard Dawkins (both of whom enthusiastically blurb this book) and Stephen Jay Gould will find much to appreciate here.
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From Scientific American
Patient X declares that his mother is an impostor. The diagnosis? Freud might say the patient has a troubled Oedipus complex. But the same patient thinks his poodle is a fraud, too. Ramachandran offers a more rigorous neurological explanation in A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness. Examining the cause for patient Xs behavior is just one stop on the writers journey through the neural pathways of the brain. As the tour guide, Ramachandran, a neuroscientist at the University of California at San Diego, leads readers through a collection of his experiments and theories, championing the idea that charting the brain on a neurological level will provide us with a robust understanding of everything from politics to love. Case studies of patients with obscure syndromes help the author solve the brainmind puzzle piece by piece. In the case of patient X, communication between regions responsible for visual recognition and the production of emotional responses has been impaired. Because the patient recognizes his mothers face but feels no corresponding emotion, he deduces that she is simply a look-alike. Parts of the book are fascinating and accessible, especially Ramachandrans work with phantom limbs and synesthesiain which patients seem to transpose the processing of senses, such as sensing the note "middle C" as the color green. Ramachandran presents a convincing argument relating the syndrome to the enhancement of an ability we all possess: drawing connections between objects and events. In a noticeable departure from the empirical explanations of the early sections, Ramachandran later explores possible psychological underpinnings for the evolution of human language and a universal definition of art. The final chapter, an abstract, philosophical foray into free will and the human sense of self, is even more speculative. At times a captivating presentation of facts and anecdotes and at other times an assortment of theories, the book is more of a tour of Ramachandrans opinions and experiences than the concise introduction one expects from the title. In the end, the book succeeds in delivering an entertaining and thought-provoking look at how and why we should think about thought.
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