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A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Impostor Poodles to Purple Numbers

4.2 out of 5 stars 69 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0131486867
ISBN-10: 0131486861
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Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks: A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety by Seth J. Gillihan PhD
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Editorial Reviews

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 X’s behavior is just one stop on the writer’s 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 brain–mind 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 mother’s face but feels no corresponding emotion, he deduces that she is simply a look-alike. Parts of the book are fascinating and accessible, especially Ramachandran’s work with phantom limbs and synesthesia—in 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 Ramachandran’s 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.

Lisa DeKeukelaere


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Pi Press (July 23, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0131486861
  • ISBN-13: 978-0131486867
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,180,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I attended the 2005 Skeptics Society conference on Brain, Mind, and Consciousness at Caltech, where Ramachandran had been scheduled to speak but was unable to do so because of a family emergency. Although I was not previously familiar with his work, the description led me to believe he was a speaker I would be interested in hearing, and this book, which I purchased at the conference, provides a strong case for that. I've long had an interest in philosophy of mind and cognitive science, and minored in cognitive science in my Ph.D. studies (never completed) at the University of Arizona. I've been out of academia for 11 years now, and apart from reading occasional works like Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained and Freedom Evolves, I've not been keeping close tabs on the field. The conference and this book were quite a pleasure--it is clear that there have been some significant developments over the last decade.

It is hard to believe that there are still people who think the brain is little more than a radio receiver, a set of mechanical controls for a disembodied spirit to manipulate the body. Ramachandran's book--like the case studies of Oliver Sacks and A.N. Luria--shows how wrongheaded that view is.

This is a thin (112 pages of text, 45 pages of notes), very accessible and entertaining book. If you enjoy the works of Sacks and Luria, you are likely to enjoy this as well. This is not a collection of case studies, though there are some descriptions of particular patients--it is written from a higher elevation, bringing together recent results, explaining unusual phenomena, and speculating about how those phenomena may tie in to a further understanding of the details of the brain's function.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is an expansion and revision of a series of talks that the author gave as the 2003 Reith Lectures on BBC Radio. The BBC title was "The Emerging Mind." To summarize the book in a few inaccurate words, the author presents the contributions that neuropathology and the study of unusual perceptual modes like synaesthesia make to the study of the mind considered as a collection of brain structures that process sensory data and the self considered as a metarepresentation within such a mind.

Despite the complex ideas, the discussion is lucid and engaging. Dr. Ramachandran has the courage to suggest new hypotheses and to propose experiments to test them, and he also has a sense of humor.

The author writes in the Introduction, "As my colleague Oliver Sacks said of one of his books: `the real book is in the endnotes, Rama,`" which is certainly true of this edition. There are 45 pages of endnotes for 112 pages of text. The endnotes contain the most interesting discussions and the clearest exposition, which is why I was very disappointed to see that endnotes 11 and 12, the final pair of endnotes in the last chapter, appear to be missing from the Endnotes section. I would really like to read what the author has to say about Anton's syndrome and hypnotic induction. Perhaps the author or publisher could post these on a website somewhere.

The Glossary in the back of the book is substantially the same as the one provided on the BBC website for the original talks. Because of the nature of the subject, it contains both technical scientific terms like _phosphorylation_ and some philosophical terms like _qualia_.
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Format: Hardcover
After reading Phantoms in the Brain, I was excited to see another book out by V.S. Ramachandran. Sadly, this book is just a dumbed-down rehash of Phantoms. There are only a few snippets of actual new material in this book and they're not covered in any kind of depth. Additionally, he introduces his own personal opinions regarding the human condition that have nothing to do with the studies of the brain. It doesn't even fit at all into the flow of the book.

Don't bother reading this book if you've already read Phantoms in the Brain. But if you haven't read it, I highly, highly recommend Phantoms.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you haven't read Ramachandran's "Phantoms in the Brain," go read that instead--it's amazing. If you've already read "Phantoms," don't bother with this lightweight re-hashing.

Ramachandran seems to have chosen to follow in the footsteps of another great--Stephen Hawking--by writing one great book and following it up with an endless stream of successively shorter, "more accessible" versions of the same book.

The attempts to make more accessible that which was already readily accessible have put Ramachandran in danger of over-simplifying the material.

Warning: This allegedly 208-page book includes only 113 pages of "Phantom" rehash and then notes.
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Format: Paperback
I read Phantoms in the Brain by the same author and was wowed, so I bought this book and was sorely disappointed that it really really is a shorter, less interesting version of Phantoms in the Brain. Don't waste your time on this book just buy Phantoms in the Brain. I wish I had read the other reviews earlier that said this before I ordered it!
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