- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (January 23, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393340627
- ISBN-13: 978-0393340624
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (140 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #47,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human Reprint Edition
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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.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
*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.
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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!
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. However, defending the book in this manner does not stop the reader from wondering whether they are sitting for story time, or reading something of substance. Additionally, at many times throughout the book it seems as though Ramachandran uses the shield of popular science writing to make assumptions with abandon. It seems as though he has forgotten where his expertise lies. Many of his hypotheses, especially in the sections about beauty and aesthetics are based in assumptions that quickly raise objections. In figure 7.5 of the book, Ramachandran presents two images, and designates one to be more aesthetically pleasing. He gives no reference to an authority on art, or even a survey of popular opinion. It can be assumed that this judgment of artistic value is based only on his authority and that he believes that his scientific reputation renders him an art authority. Unfortunately the reader is unable to further entertain Ramachandran's speculations on these topics because of a disagreement over the extent of his expertise. Ramachandran defends himself from further criticism against the wild assumptions in his later chapters by acknowledging several times that much content of these chapters is speculative. Despite being a little flighty and a little insulting, the author's failures in art criticism and courtesy do not outweigh his scientific success. The Tell-Tale Brain remains a worthwhile read.
One of the greatest strengths of the book is its organization. The chapters are clearly separated by topic, and the information presented in the earlier chapters clearly builds a foundation to allow for better understanding of the content in the later chapters.
The first chapter focuses on phantom limbs, or sensation and pain that amputees often feel in their removed limbs. It also addresses plasticity, or the brain's ability to change. The next chapter discusses the way the brain processes visual information with a specific focus on how humans process this information differently from other animals. Chapter three discusses synesthesia, a phenomenon where sensory information is mixed. The following chapter introduces mirror neurons. These are neurons that allow humans to adopt another's point of view, and may have been a primary factor in the development of culture. The fifth chapter discusses the possibilities that autism is partially a result of dysfunctional mirror neurons. The sixth chapter addresses language, and the role mirror neurons and other factors may have played in its development. The seventh and eighth chapters address beauty. Chapter seven especially focuses on the ways our concept of beauty could have evolved and discusses two of nine laws of aesthetics that Ramachandran produces. Chapter eight discusses the remaining laws of aesthetics. The final chapter of the book considers the daunting concept of self-awareness.
Besides the nine chapters of the book, the volume has an introduction that includes Ramachandran's initial discussion of human uniqueness, a glimpse of the fascinating case studies discussed throughout the book and an overview of brain anatomy. The work also includes an epilogue which serves to unify the work, and a helpful glossary of terms. The introduction, epilogue, and glossary play a large role in the organizational strength of the book. They serve as a helpful reference throughout the reading of the book, and prevent much of the discussion from becoming a confusing jumble of words.
In his discussion throughout the work, Ramachandran uses interesting case studies to illustrate how functions can be localized in the brain. Additionally, in his discussion of each of these areas, Ramachandran pays special attention to the evolutionary development of the structures and functions involved. He imparts the idea that evolutionary development of the brain structure is central to truly understanding the function. In addition to focus on evolution, Ramachandran centers almost repetitively on the idea that humans are unique. He constantly refutes the idea that humans are "just another species of ape," and stresses the astonishing intellectual differences that arise between humans and other primates as a result of small differences in brain structure.
Another strength of the book is the background information provided for each chapter. Ramachandran is usually careful to give credit where it is due and cites the discoveries and innovations made by various scientists as the basis for much of his work. In addition, Ramachandran is careful to provide clear background information to a topic where it is needed. The chapter on the development of language is a particularly good example of this. Consistent with his theme of human uniqueness, Ramachandran is careful to go into detail to describe what precisely it is that makes human language different from that of other animals. Furthermore, he clearly describes the structure of language, and its many facets and thoroughly introduces the ground-breaking work done by pioneers in the field of linguistics. He then builds on this groundwork to discuss how language could have evolved, and how its different functions are believed to interact within the brain.
All in all, The Tell Tale Brain is a good introduction to the field of neuroscience. It covers various topics in which significant ground has been gained, and it addresses topics where hardly any groundwork has been laid. It does all of these things in a casual tone that still challenges the reader to wonder about the vast complexities of the brain. For these reasons, it earns 4/5 stars.