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

by V. S. Ramachandran
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 23, 2012 9780393340624 978-0393340624 Reprint

"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. 45 illustrations

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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.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (January 23, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780393340624
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393340624
  • ASIN: 0393340627
  • Product Dimensions: 2.2 x 3.2 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (91 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #41,171 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
218 of 225 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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67 of 75 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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17 of 18 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, entertaining, but a bit too technical.
This book was a great read, very interesting, inspiring and thought provoking.

I would criticize two thing. First, at times it felt too speculative. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Isaac
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Book!
I was just getting interested in neuroscience, and this book pushed me over the edge and I have declared myself as specializing in neuromuscular rehabilitation all because of this... Read more
Published 29 days ago by Jon Richards
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, factual, sometimes speculative
Presents the brain and the mind from the knowledgeable perspective of a neuroscientist. Has diagrams and pictures accompanying the text, sometimes these are difficult to see on the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Blakut
5.0 out of 5 stars Belongs alongside Sacks on the shelf
Ramachandran established himself several books back as the leader in understanding how the brain produces the mind. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Wirklich Verrukt
4.0 out of 5 stars as always...
Once again, great content. However, this time, there is not as great a depth to individual subjects as well as a generalized overview of the good doctor's work. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Dr. William ODonnell
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Look at the Human Brain
I enjoyed this book and found it very interesting at times. In a few places it slowed down and I thought the Ramachandran drug the topic out a bit too long. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Book Fanatic
4.0 out of 5 stars mirror therapy
I built and have used his mirror box for my hand did work! My hand surgeon confirmed it worked
Published 2 months ago by John L. Stout
4.0 out of 5 stars No wonder humans are such amazing creatures!
My first reading of this book (first pass) was just the beginning. I'll use it for a reference. It is full of information about human evolution and why our brain makes us so... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Vaughn A. Adkisson
3.0 out of 5 stars Outside the Box: a Unique Approach to Mapping Cognition
The Tell-Tale Brain is a collection of pioneering neuroscience theories developed through the career of V.S. Read more
Published 4 months ago by MJ Visconti
4.0 out of 5 stars I recommend
Easy to read and very interesting. It makes you think pretty hard about different subjects in life. Idk that may just be me over analyzing everything. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Mary Rodriguez
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