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The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human Hardcover – January 17, 2011
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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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*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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Top Customer Reviews
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. However, one of the finest things about Ramachandran's book is that this doesn't account for everything in the book; it's not simply Ramachandran rolling out one bizarre disorder after another. He hits the subject matter from every angle - anatomically, evolutionarily, psychologically, and philosophically. It's exceedingly evident that Ramachandran knows all of the topics - inside-and-out - in regards to mind, brain, and consciousness. And still, the writing was never over my head. It was just as Ramachandran said it would be, "I presume some degree of interest in science and curiosity about human nature, but I do not presume any sort of formal scientific background or even familiarity with my previous works. I hope this book proves instructive and inspiring to students of all levels and backgrounds, to colleagues in other disciplines, and to lay readers with no personal or professional stake in these topics."
Ramachandran states in the Epilogue, "One of the major themes in the book - whether talking about body image, mirror neurons, language evolution, or autism - has been the question of how your inner self interacts with the world (including the social world) while at the same time maintaining its privacy. The curious reciprocity between self and others is especially well developed in humans and probably exists only in rudimentary form in the great apes. I have suggested that many types of mental illness may result from derangements in this equilibrium. Understanding such disorders may pave the way not only for solving the abstract (or should I say philosophical) problem of the self at a theoretical level, but also for treating mental illness."
In conclusion, I strongly recommend reading this book. The writing is great, the style is flawless, and Ramachandran's self deprecating humor really keeps the material lively. Every issue in contemporary Mind/Brain/Consciousness literature has been addressed in one way or another and I think everyone would have something to gain from reading it. I would put this book right on par with Antonio Damasio's, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, and Paul Nunez's, Brain, Mind, and the Structure of Reality. Along with V.S. Ramachandran, these men, each in his own way, is pointing the way for the entire Neuroscientific community..."The question of how neurons encode meaning and evoke all the semantic associations of an object is the holy grail of neuroscience, whether you are studying memory, perception, art, or consciousness." Ramachandran's book is not to be missed!
"The Tell-Tale Brain" is an insightful look into the intriguing world of neuroscience and what makes us uniquely human. Accomplished neuroscientist and author of "Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind" takes the reader on a ride of his life's work inside the connections between brain, mind and body. Using an approach that involves studying patients with damaged parts of their brains that lead to peculiar behavior; Dr. Ramachandran shares what he has learned from countless examples of brain disorders. This enlightening 384-page book is composed of the following nine chapters: 1.Phantom Limbs and Plastic Brains, 2. Seeing and Knowing, 3. Loud Colors and Hot Babes: Synesthesia, 4. The Neurons that Shaped Civilization, 5. Where Is Steven? The Riddle of Autism, 6. The Power of Babble: The Evolution of Language, 7. Beauty and the Brain: The Emergence of Aesthetics, 8. The Artful Brain: Universal Laws, and 9. An Ape with a Soul: How Introspection Evolved.
1. Engaging writing style and great insights into neuroscience at an accessible level.
2. The fascinating world of neuroscience through personal case studies.
3. Good use of charts and diagrams.
4. Thought-provoking questions and answers based on a combination of sound science and educated speculation.
5. The author is candid on the limited knowledge we have in this young field but provides countless tidbits that whets ones appetite for more research.
6. Many thought-provoking ideas, "When informed that their conscious self emerges `simply' from the mindless agitations of atoms and molecules in their brains, people often feel let down, but they shouldn't."
7. The brain's amazing capacity for change (plasticity). How culture and evolution provided the impetus for change.
8. What makes the human brain truly unique; a look at how the brain processes visual information. Great Stuff!
9. Many great case studies; one of the most intriguing, synesthesia.
10. Mirror neurons at the heart of empathy. An evolutionary key to full-fledged culture.
11. Interesting insights into autism.
12. Explores how mirror neurons may have played a pivotal role in the development of language.
13. The brain's response to beauty and art. The author speculates on the possibility of real art (aesthetics). The nine laws of aesthetics.
14. The nature of self-awareness. Consciousness. The seven aspects of the self.
15. A look at disorders that create a sense of embodiment.
16. An interesting spectrum of mental disorders. Cotard and Capgras syndromes to name a few.
17. An excellent glossary of terms.
18. Links to notes and a formal bibliography.
1. Some of the attempts of humor fell flat. I would advise a neuroscientist to stay away from political and any type of humor that can be misconstrued as sexist.
2. The author gives the impression of reading his own press (egotistic). Honestly, it doesn't bother me too much but I can see it being annoying to others.
3. A basic refresher on evolution and how it relates to the brain would have added value to the book.
4. For the sake of clarity, scientists need to be clear on what the current scientific consensus is. There are times when the author tells you when he is speculating but there are also times when I'm not clear what the current scientific consensus is and it needs to be clearly pointed out.
In summary, I really enjoyed this book. Dr. Ramachandran's writing style and fascinating topic makes for a fun even though his overinflated ego can be distracting. That being said, neuroscience is a fascinating field and the author presents many interesting case studies to light on what makes our brains exceptional and thus human. A young field in the quest for answers, I highly recommend it!
Further suggestions: "Subliminal" by Leonard Mlodinow, "The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths" by Michael Shermer, "The Scientific American Brave New Brain: How Neuroscience, Brain-Machine Interfaces, Neuroimaging, Psychopharmacology, Epigenetics, the Internet, and ... and Enhancing the Future of Mental Power" by Judith Horstman, "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" by Steven Pinker, "Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain" and "Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique", by Michael S. Gazzaniga, "Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality 1st Edition by Tancredi, Laurence published by Cambridge University Press Paperback" by Laurence Tancredi, "Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality [ BRAINTRUST: WHAT NEUROSCIENCE TELLS US ABOUT MORALITY BY Churchland, Patricia S. ( Author ) Aug-26-2012" by Patricia S. Churchland, "Paranormality" by Richard Wiseman, and "The Brain and the Meaning of Life" by Paul Thagard.