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A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Impostor Poodles to Purple Numbers Paperback – July 26, 2005
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“V. S. Ramachandran is one of our most gifted physicians and expositors, and in this new book he illuminates everything he touches—whether it is phantom limbs and how they can be ‘cured’; or how the brain can generate illusions and delusions; or synesthesia and its relation to metaphor, creativity and art; or the ultimate questions of how brain relates to mind. A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness belongs to that rare category of scientific book, one as accessible as it is deep.”—Oliver Sacks, M.D., bestselling author of Gratitude and On the Move
“Packed with ideas that are bold, irreverent, original, and ingenious. A breath of fresh air.”—David Hubel, Nobel Laureate, Harvard University
“An extraordinary book by a remarkable scientist!... the modern Paul Broca.”—Eric R. Kandel, M.D., Nobel Laureate, Columbia University
"An engaging book featuring a remarkable degree of insight, originality, and erudition.”—Neurology Today
From the Back Cover
A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: Back Cover Copy
"Vintage Ramachandran, packed with ideas that are bold, irreverent, original, and ingenious. People who have never thought much about the brain will be intrigued, but so will those who, like me, have spent most of their lives thinking about the brain. It is truly a breath of fresh air."
-David Hubel, Nobel Laureate, Harvard University, author of Eye, Brain, and Vision
"An extraordinary book by a remarkable scientist! Ramachandran is in many ways the modern Paul Broca, the great French neurologist who opened up the biological analysis of higher mental functions by studying patients with brain lesions. In a similar vein Ramachandran has used the study of patients to elucidate a range of fascinating mental functions. His insights have stimulated discussions in neuroscience over the last 25 years. Here is Ramachandran at his best; his most lucid and creative."
-Eric R. Kandel, M.D., Nobel Laureate, Columbia University
" Ramachandran is a latter-day Marco Polo, journeying the silk road of science to strange and exotic Cathays of the mind. He returns laden with phenomenological treasures...which, in his subtle and expert telling, yield more satisfying riches of scientific understanding."
-Richard Dawkins, Oxford University, author of The Blind Watchmaker
"An unusually clever neuroscientist explains baffling cases in neurology and neuropsychiatry and concludes that brain science can now resolve many of the age-old quanderies of philosophers. A thought-provoking, wonderful read."
-Roger Guillemin, Nobel Laureate, The Salk Institute
"Today we' re going through a revolution in neuroscience. The tidal wave of new researchcan be overwhelming, but V. S. Ramachandran, drawing on his own pioneering work on patients, succeeds in creating a witty, elegant introduction to the mysteries and revelations to be found within our skulls."
-Carl Zimmer, author of Soul Made Flesh
"V. S. Ramachandran is one of our most gifted physicians and expositors, and in this new book he illuminates everything he touches--whether it is phantom limbs and how they can be ' cured'; or how the brain can generate illusions and delusions; or synesthesia and its relation to metaphor, creativity, and art; or the ultimate questions of how brain relates to mind." A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness belongs to that rare category of scientific book, one as accessible as it is deep."
Oliver Sacks, M.D.
How can some people come to believe that their poodle is an impostor? Or see colors in numbers? Internationally acclaimed neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran now shares his unique insight into human consciousness in an entertaining, inspiring, and intellectually dazzling brief tour of the ultimate frontier--the thoughts in our heads.
"A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness is made up of five investigations of the greatest mysteries of the brain. The first chapter shows how amputees feel pain in limbs they no longer have as it introduces the great revolution of our age: neuroscience. The second chapter walks through how what we see determines our thoughts, and demonstrates the counterintuitive point that believing is in fact seeing. The third chapter takes a leap beyond cutting edge science to audaciously set out a general theory of beauty, explaining why, the world over, cultures have fundamentally similar notions of what isattractive. The fourth chapter explores the bizarre world of synesthetes, people who see colors in numbers, textures in smells, sounds in sights, and flavors in sounds. Finally, V. S. Ramachandran, one of the foremost neuroscientists in the world today, sums up the implications of the revolution in our understanding of consciousness to make a fascinating argument about our essential sense of self and its distributed nature.
Take a tour with the perfect guide to one of the strangest places in the natural world, the human mind.
V. S. Ramachandran, M.D., Ph.D., is Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, and Adjunct Professor of Biology at The Salk Institute. He has received many honors and awards including the Presidential Lecture Award from the American Academy of Neurology and the Ramon y Cajal Award from the International Neuropsychiatry Society.
He gave the inaugural keynote lecture at the Decade of the Brain conference held by the National Institute of Mental Health at the Library of Congress. His critically acclaimed "Phantoms in the Brain has been translated into eight languages. "Newsweek has named him a member of "The Century Club"--one of the hundred most prominent people to watch in the twenty-first century.
He lives in Del Mar, California.(c) Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.
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I think Ramachandran is the most brilliant, creative Neuroscientist alive. Sure, he is very popular science writer. But if you aren't paying attention (e.g., some of the other Amazon reviewers), you might not see that he is to our field what Mozart, Picasso, and Einstein were to theirs.
Many, many neuroscientists pick "safe" topics and stick with variants upon a theme all their lives. The work is often valuable, but it is not exactly akin to a spectator sport. Ramachandran, in contrast, chooses "sexy" topics to study. He brings "rasa"; spirit; passion to the study of the brain. And if you've ever seen Ramachandran speak (either to scientists or the general public), you know what I'm talking about, and you know that the book is not a fluke.
Ramachandran does not think like other neuroscientists. Most neuroscientists pick a topic or area of the brain, and then do systematic, parametric, sensible experiments to map and test the minute details of their theory. There's usually lots of data collection and data analysis. But Ramachandran has a knack for creating "breakthrough" experiments routinely. In these experiments, the answer to a sexy question comes instantly, dramatically, and powerfully. Such creative, intuitive genius is extremely rare. Trust me, we'd all like to do science this way.
I hope that we can appreciate that Ramachandran incorporates a wide variety of worldviews as he creates gem after gem. He is from the great culture that was and is southern India; he is a medical doctor and neurologist; he is a reknowned perceptual and cognitive neuroscientist who trained with master academics in England; and he is passionately insightful about art. I've heard people compare Ramachandran to mystics, healers and others. The cult status is of course a little ridiculous (see other reviews). But the enthusiasm is understandable. And the book, like his earlier "Phantoms in the Brain" is wonderful.
Ramachandran has published a virtually identical book in the Great Britain under the title, "The Emerging Mind: The BBC Reith Lectures 2003." For some reason, the publishers of the American text chose not to emphasize the link to the BBC Reith Lectures. But in fact, the five Reith Lectures were presented, in edited form, on BBC radio. And more to the point, these radio broadcasts can be heard online for free at the BBC website ([...] The website contains a variety of demonstrations, as well as free transcripts of the lectures. One's enjoyment of the book can be enhanced considerably by listening to these five Rieth lectures. The five lectures correspond closely to the five chapters of the book, although they are not identical. The lectures, like the book, are highly entertaining.
My favorite chapter was the fifth chapter, "Neuroscience - The New Philosophy." The central theme is the idea that the study of patients with neurological disorders has implications far beyond the confines of medical neurology. In particular, the chapter takes up the challenge of various forms of mental illness. As Ramachandran points out, "there have traditionally been two broad and different approaches to mental illness. The first one tries to identify the chemical imbalances, changes in transmitters and receptors in the brain, and attempts to correct these changes using drugs. This approach has revolutionized psychiatry and has been phenomenally successful. Patients who used to be put in straitjackets or locked up can now lead relatively normal lives. The second approach we can loosely characterize as the psychotherapeutic approach. It often assumes that most mental illness arises from early upbringing." Ramachandran presents a third approach that is different from either of these, but which, in a sense complements them both. He attempts to explain some symptoms of mental illness in terms of what is known about function, anatomy and neural structures of the brain. He suggests that many of these symptoms and disorders seem less bizarre when viewed from an evolutionary standpoint, that is from a Darwinian perspective. He proposes to give this discipline a new name - evolutionary neuropsychology.
Also, don't miss the preface. The blunt humor may be too subtle for some people, but I loved it.
The book makes note of what has been learned from damage sustained by individuals to specific, narrow areas of the brain. Physical disabilities and mental anomalies are more clearly defined by these occurrences, and the introduction of PET scans and functional MRI's has allowed researchers to take a closer look at specific sites and their anatomy and physiology. In the past, such information was gleaned from what could be deduced from autopsy results after such an individual died.
Some of the material is old. Certainly the oddities produced by corpus collisotomy have been discussed in depth, as has the unusual abilities of the autistic savant (individuals like the Rainman). The author's experiments with retraining paralytic limbs and with reducing the phantom pain phenomenon with mirrors will probably be new to anyone who has not read his other book.
A fun book and an interesting introduction to the functioning of the brain.