100 of 106 people found the following review helpful
An excellent, readible account of mind and brain study,
This review is from: Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind (Paperback)
Phantoms in the Brain is not only a marvelous narrative of the quirky facets of the brain and the mind, it is also a good illustration of the advances made in neurology over the past 30 years. Indeed if you take into account the extensive career of Freud, who was himself a neuro-anatomist prior to pursuing his medical profession, neurology and neuropsychology have well over a 150 years behind them.
In the book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, written in the 1970 and reprinted a number of times since, Oliver Sacks illustrates peculiar neurological deficits arising from various insults to the brain, from tumors to strokes and seizures. Although he can pinpoint the areas of brain compromise that cause the patient's problems and, like Freud, give the reader some theory as to what aspect of the "self" is effected, he does little beyond this. In Phantoms of the Brain, Ramachandran recounts numerous colorful stories, but develops a theory of what level of brain function is the cause of the observed deficits, then proceeds to test his theory with further study, making the "self" a topic of research. In the true spirit of scientific research he publishes his findings and elicits input from fellows in the field. Where there is a discrepancy, he and others conduct further research to illuminate the findings and integrate the data into the overall theory. While he freely admits that a true science of the mind is in its infancy, he also points at the major advances made since Freud's work.
One of the things I found most unique about the author's style is that he points out the pertinent contributions in the works of other, often earlier researchers, particularly Freud. It seems to have become fashionable to treat Freud and his work with great disrespect, ignoring that he was a man of his times and very progressive in his thinking for that time. Not all of his work is useless, particularly that in neuro-anatomy, and as is often the case in science, as more research is done today it may be found that some of his theoretical work is less faulty than has been thought. Ramachandran gleans the traces of gold from the mine of Freud's work and integrates them into his own.
The author's writing style is conversational and clear. He appears to be a natural teacher, making the work obtainable for any person with average reading skills. It might make a good book for showing high school students how problems in science are outlined and tested, especially in health care sciences. It's colorful stories of people and their problems should arrest the attention of the high school student, perhaps orienting them to a career in science. For those interested in mind and consciousness, the book is a good example of the research being done by biologists-as opposed to artificial intelligence professionals and philosophers like Roger Penrose and Daniel Dennett-and makes it obvious that there is still a long way to go in this fascinating field.