- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 13 hours and 2 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Tantor Audio
- Audible.com Release Date: January 21, 2011
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English
- ASIN: B004KA56XW
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human Audiobook – Unabridged
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The main idea of the book is that Ramachandran takes the reader through a series of stories about unique and interesting cases involving the brain. The author is a cognitive neuroscientist and has much experience and knowledge on topics relating to the brain. Not only are the cases exciting to read, but the reader will also learn a lot they probably did not know about their own brain before. Ramachandran begins the book from an evolutionary perspective by comparing humans to apes. He considers the many differences between apes and humans and how the human mind has seemed to develop, and in some cases, fail, in a remarkably different way than our ancestors. The rest of the book is filled with detailed examples of all the ways the brain can fail to function properly. In some cases, the malfunction is merely an inconvenience, such as colorblindness or associating a smell to a certain texture, and in other cases it can result in great pain to the patient.
Ramachandran goes into detail about most of the disorders he mentions, but the following paragraphs will give just a brief summary of a few of his main cases. First, he describes the case of a man with phantom limb syndrome who he met in medical school. This caused the patient to feel immense pain in a limb even though that limb had been amputated. He also discussed treatment, such as looking at a working limb in the mirror and pretending the mirror image was the real limb. He also discusses less severe cases the average person might not even consider a disease, such as seeing a certain number in a specific color regardless of what color the text actually is.
After discussing these and a few other cases, Ramachandran then goes into a discussion on the complexity and impracticality of the human mind. Humans take decades to fully develop and large amounts of nutrition to function compared to animals. The author explores possibilities of why our species developed in a way that does not seem evolutionarily viable. Also, the idea of mental disorders also seems like something that should have been removed through natural selection because those with disorders would have likely struggled to survive more than those with more fully functioning cognitive processes.
For the next few cases following the above discussion, Ramachandran does a good job of using illustration in the book to show what areas of the brain these disorders are taking place in. For example, in a case where a patient had slowed speech, a map of the brain with the speech centers highlighted was provided.
The final chapters of the book focus on how the brain relates to beauty. Ramachandran explores why humans feel compelled to make and appreciate art when there seems to be no evolutionary reason for this ability or preference. He also proposes that there are laws to what the brain sees as beautiful. For example, a painting with contrasting colors often is perceived as more beautiful than a painting of relatively similar shades.
Ramachandran ends with a final case of a man who can only recognize people by voice, not by sight. This creates the idea that the man is fully functioning when his eyes are closed, but when his eyes are open and it is made apparent he cannot recognize faces that there is something wrong with him. The author leaves the reader with the idea that there are many selves within one person and that their changing cognitive abilities can cause these different selves to appear or disappear.
Overall, this book is a good choice for anyone who is interested in neurological cases or learning more about how their own brain works. It is especially useful for those with little to no knowledge of neuroscience because the diagrams and word choice make the stories easy to follow. One downside is that not all cases are equal in length. For example, the phantom limb case was about half of a chapter long, while a case of a paralyzed woman who was convinced she could move was only a couple of pages long. Depending on the interest of the reader, they may feel like too much time was spent on one topic they were not interested in and wish more was said on a topic that intrigued them.
Anyone interested in science, medicine, or their own brain should read this book. It serves as an introductory book to learning about the brain as well as a supplement to those with basic knowledge who may not have heard of all the diseases listed in the case studies. The stories are interesting and because each chapter is somewhat unique the reader can jump around to the sections that interest them most. The images help to explain more difficult sections and give the reader more specific anatomical knowledge than what could be said simply in a book for a popular audience. The only downside is that some cases seemed too short, but this will only encourage the reader to go out and learn more on their own.
Ramachandran is a neuroscientist who conveys his work through storytelling. He begins this story by describing humans as “no mere apes.” From an evolutionary standpoint, he discusses how culture as a pressure and mirror neurons led to a cascade of effects that peaked at Homo sapiens. Ramachandran then discusses case studies about phantom limbs, which is important in showing the brain’s remarkable plasticity. Another important attribute to humanity are mirror neurons, which gives us the ability to understand another person’s point of view, constructing complex thoughts and behavior which allows us to empathize with others. A lack in mirror neurons could be a cause of autism, a disorder of self consciousness. Ramachandran then describes the evolution of language and aesthetics. He then lists the universal laws that emerge in normal developing brains. The last chapter consists of short stories of many patients who have deficits in the unity of self, such as not recognizing one’s arm as their own. These patients are of importance as they give us insight to what it means to be human.
Of all the topics explored in this book, I believe phantom limbs is most important. Ramachandran explains the tendency to attribute touch sensations arriving from the face to the phantom hand. He does so by using the map of the skin surface on the postcentral gyrus, which Wilder Penfield first described while mapping the somatosensory cortex. Ramachandran’s theory is that sensory input from the facial skin to the face map in the brain, invades the area corresponding to the missing hand. On the Penfield map, the hand map is above the face map. As a result of cross wiring and neurons still being active in this region, touch signals applied to the face also sends signals to the hand. Oftentimes, this leads to a phenomenon known as phantom pain. The ability the brain has to recover from the loss of a limb is in my opinion, remarkable. Especially from an evolutionary standpoint, as we are able to use plasticity in brain refinement. Without the brain’s ability to adapt from learning, we would simply be apes. Ramachandran is an acclaimed neuroscientist and physician, making his research on the somatosensory cortex and his theories on phantom limbs plausible. In my perspective, Ramachandran has given readers a credible foundation in understanding the distinctiveness of the brain through it’s complexity.
The Tell-Tale Brain is an intriguing narrative that gives the reader a great understanding of the inner workings of the brain. Ramachandran’s problem solving technique is exemplary, answering questions about the normal human brain by examining the damaged. His research is not only fascinating but is also acclaimed and his findings on phantom limbs are fundamental to his theory of humanity. Ramachandran’s excellent storytelling makes this reading enjoyable. Ramachandran has laid out the framework of self and consciousness, giving the reader an appreciation for the uniqueness of the human brain. I believe Ramachandran has flawlessly captured the distinctive traits that make humans different from primate ancestors. This is why I give The Tell-Tale Brain a rating of five out of five stars.