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The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human [Kindle Edition]

V. S. Ramachandran
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)

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Book Description

"A profound intriguing and compelling guide to the intricacies of the human brain." —Oliver Sacks


In this landmark work, V. S. Ramachandran investigates strange, unforgettable cases—from patients who believe they are dead to sufferers of phantom limb syndrome. With a storyteller’s eye for compelling case studies and a researcher’s flair for new approaches to age-old questions, Ramachandran tackles the most exciting and controversial topics in brain science, including language, creativity, and consciousness.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Ramachandran (A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness), director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at UCSD, explores why humans, who are "anatomically, neurologically and genetically, physiologically apes," are not "merely" apes. While animals can communicate with sound and gesture, and chimpanzees can even use words to express immediate needs, humans have developed the ability to speak in structurally complex sentences, and often speak in metaphor. Ramachandran speculates that, as we can map another's actions and intuit their thoughts, we also map our own sensory apparatus, perceiving our surroundings—and perceiving ourselves perceiving our surroundings. We imagine the future and speculate about the past and seek to understand our place in the universe, laying the foundation for our the sense of free will; we not only envisage future actions, but are aware of their potential consequences and the responsibility for our choices. Richard Dawkins has called Ramachandran "the Marco Polo of neuroscience," and with good reason. He offers a fascinating explanation of cutting-edge-neurological research that deepens our understanding of the relationship between the perceptions of the mind and the workings of the brain. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* The twentieth was the century of physics, with the grand unified theory its quest and goal. The twenty-first is shaping up as the century of neuroscience, with its quest and goal the reaffirmation of human exceptionalism. Boldly asserting, right off the bat, that Homo sapiens is “no mere ape,” Ramachandran tells us why the day of neuroscience has dawned. The discovery of mirror neurons (see Marco Iacoboni’s exciting Mirroring People, 2008) has made a real science out of psychology, for it gives the study of consciousness and the host of mental states contingent on it something physical to theorize about and experiment with. A physician (like Oliver Sacks, a neurologist) as well as a researcher, Ramachandran uses his neurology patients’ predicaments to inspire inquiries into how we see and know, the origins of language, the mental basis of civilization, how we conceive of and assess art, and how the self is constructed. Always careful to point out when he is speculating rather than announcing research findings, he is also prompt to emphasize why his speculations, or theories, are not just of the armchair variety but can be put to the test because of what neuroscience has already discovered about the active structures of the human brain. --Ray Olson

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
228 of 235 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ramachandran Raises the Bar - Yet Again! January 2, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The preeminent neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran has, without a doubt, raised the bar in this, his newest book, The Tell-Tale Brain. He states in the preface, "Readers who have assiduously followed my whole oeuvre over the years will recognize some of the case histories that I presented in my previous books, Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind and A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Impostor Poodles to Purple Numbers. These same readers will be pleased to see that I have new things to say about even my earlier findings and observations. Brain science has advanced at an astonishing pace over the past fifteen years, lending fresh perspectives on - well, just about everything. After decades of floundering in the shadow of the "hard" sciences, the age of neuroscience has truly dawned, and this rapid progress has directed and enriched my own work." And what an enriching book this is!

In a nutshell, what Ramachandran does is to discover how the normal brain works by studying individuals with abnormal neurological conditions. In this respect, his books are similar to Oliver Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales and The Mind's Eye). Some of the disorders Ramachandran discusses are: Agnosia, Anosognosia, Autism, Capgras Syndrome, Cotard Syndrome, and Synesthesia, to name a few.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Snarky but Satisfying December 10, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
V.S. Ramachandran owns a variety of distinctions. He is director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, Distinguished Professor at the University of California, San Diego, and Adjunct Professor of Biology at the Salk Institute. He has written or co-written a number of popular-science works including Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind, The Encyclopedia of the Human Brain, and A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Impostor Poodles to Purple Numbers. His most recent work is The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes us Human. This book, rehashes much of the material discussed in his previous work, Phantoms of the Brain, but also presents many new and untested ideas and hypotheses. Despite a few off-color remarks that are peppered throughout the work, and some wild assumptions that are used to support untested hypotheses, The Tell Tale Brain proved to be a satisfying and entertaining read. It presents tough material on a very wide spectrum of topics in a thorough and easy to read manner.

A majority of fault found within The Tell Tale Brain can be attributed to personality. Besides a general haughty overtone that can be easily explained by his success, Ramachandran makes a few snide remarks in reference to women, religion and politics throughout the book that are unwarranted. They serve only as insults, and have no purpose in supporting the subject of the book. Another weakness in Ramachandran's writing is oversimplification of the material. This can be justified by recalling the intended purpose of the book, and remembering that it is difficult to provide a satisfying explanation without getting too technical for a wide audience.
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74 of 84 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There's definitely an "I" in Ramachandran March 23, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
V.S. Ramachandran is a genius, a modern wizard of neuroscience, the foremost pioneer - the Galileo - of neurocognition. How do I know this? Well, it's not just because it says so on the back cover. No, I have an even more reliable source - Ramachandran himself! This is an interesting book and Ramachandran really is quite a clever fellow. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to realize that his cleverness is readily apparent and not something of which the reader needs to be continuously reminded. Known for gleaning important new insights from simple experiments and ideas, he often leaves the impression that his methods are sometimes a bit too simple. For example, he describes a "three boxes experiment" and speculates freely and wildly about how this experiment will help explain the evolution of language. He leaves us hanging by saying mysteriously: "The three boxes experiment has not been done yet." Well... why the hell not? We're not talking Einstein here, with predictions that had to wait until technology had sufficiently advanced to be checked. No, we're talking about watching how people stack three boxes in order to reach a high-hanging reward. One might expect "a latter-day Marco Polo" such as Ramachandran to be getting the job done in the lab, but he seems content to toss ideas into the air and wait for others to actually perform the experiments, at which point he'll be poised and ready to swoop in to take his fair share of the credit. In this same chapter, he tells how a postdoc and he suggested that apraxia is a disorder related to mirror neurons. The next sentence reads: "Paul and I opened a bottle to celebrate having clinched the diagnosis." Huh?? Surely - hopefully? Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Every student scientist should read this!
Published 6 days ago by C. Ashly
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm recommending this book
The book is absolutely fascinating and enlightening to read about how the brain might work to make us an evolving human!
Published 1 month ago by JJ
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Fascinating book - a must read for anyone interested in how the brain works!
Published 2 months ago by Pet Parent
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Ramachandran rules!
Published 2 months ago by Tammy S.
5.0 out of 5 stars A very broad and interesting analysis of how the human brain works.
Amazing facts that point to a new understanding of how the brain works. Neither the host of the soul or an organic supercomputer, in this book we can understand the hundreds of... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Tiago Lins
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Clear concise informative laugh out loud funny
Published 3 months ago by Tatiekrug
4.0 out of 5 stars Caution about audio versions
For those tempted by the audio versions: there are many (45) references to the graphics and illustrations in the book without any accompanying descriptions. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Patricia R. Latta
4.0 out of 5 stars & you'd have a far superior introductory course in any freshman year
Teach from this book instead of some bland, generic text in Psych 101, & you'd have a far superior introductory course in any freshman year. Read more
Published 4 months ago by G. Brennan
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant language, breathtaking reading
Clear, powerful delivery, brilliant language, breathtaking reading.
Published 6 months ago by Pavel Kalinin
4.0 out of 5 stars Great and simple exposition of the scientific approach to...
I have read other books of this great neuroscientist. As always, his language is easy to understand, thanks to the exposition of the cases that he had faced during his career. Read more
Published 7 months ago by E. V. P. E
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