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Paperback Phantoms in the Brain : Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind Book

ISBN: 0688172172

ISBN13: 9780688172176

Phantoms in the Brain : Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind

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Book Overview

Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran is internationally renowned for uncovering answers to the deep and quirky questions of human nature that few scientists have dared to address. His bold insights about the brain are matched only by the stunning simplicity of his experiments -- using such low-tech tools as cotton swabs, glasses of water and dime-store mirrors. In Phantoms in the Brain, Dr. Ramachandran recounts how his work with patients who have bizarre...

Customer Reviews

6 ratings

Awesome book.

I'm pretty bad at summarizing, so I'll say this. This is the first book of this type I've ever picked up, and I think it was the best choice I probably could have made. While it explains many things in detail, with names, diagrams, and stories, its not all medical jargon. If you're looking into books like this, I'd say start here. Even as a young person with not much previous knowledge about subjects the book covers, I was able to understand nearly all of it. Amazing book and I would recommend to anyone else who also has a brain.

An Especially Good Intro to the Brain and its Quirks

I bought this book not long after my father was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme. Like most people, I had no idea what a brain tumor really is and especially what a GBM IV is. To this day I wish I had never learned that term.But this book was a great help to me as I tried to learn more about the brain's structure and how it works. This is an easy to read book with some very helpful illustrations. It demonstrates the brain's functions by showing its quirks. It is well written and easy (and surprisingly FUN) to read.There is also a helpful bibliography and suggested reading list at the end of the book for those who wish to delve more deeply into the subject. But it is important to know that you don't need any background at all in the brain to enjoy this book. I had no understanding of brain structure beyond what the doctors told me in describing the locations of my father's tumor. This book helped me understand the changes in my fathers abilities and behavior as the tumor destroyed different portions of his brain until it finally ended his life.Honestly, this is a very good book and I think you will get a great deal from it.

An excellent, readible account of mind and brain study

Phantoms in the Brain is not only a marvelous narrative of the quirky facets of the brain and the mind, it is also a good illustration of the advances made in neurology over the past 30 years. Indeed if you take into account the extensive career of Freud, who was himself a neuro-anatomist prior to pursuing his medical profession, neurology and neuropsychology have well over a 150 years behind them. In the book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, written in the 1970 and reprinted a number of times since, Oliver Sacks illustrates peculiar neurological deficits arising from various insults to the brain, from tumors to strokes and seizures. Although he can pinpoint the areas of brain compromise that cause the patient's problems and, like Freud, give the reader some theory as to what aspect of the "self" is effected, he does little beyond this. In Phantoms of the Brain, Ramachandran recounts numerous colorful stories, but develops a theory of what level of brain function is the cause of the observed deficits, then proceeds to test his theory with further study, making the "self" a topic of research. In the true spirit of scientific research he publishes his findings and elicits input from fellows in the field. Where there is a discrepancy, he and others conduct further research to illuminate the findings and integrate the data into the overall theory. While he freely admits that a true science of the mind is in its infancy, he also points at the major advances made since Freud's work. One of the things I found most unique about the author's style is that he points out the pertinent contributions in the works of other, often earlier researchers, particularly Freud. It seems to have become fashionable to treat Freud and his work with great disrespect, ignoring that he was a man of his times and very progressive in his thinking for that time. Not all of his work is useless, particularly that in neuro-anatomy, and as is often the case in science, as more research is done today it may be found that some of his theoretical work is less faulty than has been thought. Ramachandran gleans the traces of gold from the mine of Freud's work and integrates them into his own. The author's writing style is conversational and clear. He appears to be a natural teacher, making the work obtainable for any person with average reading skills. It might make a good book for showing high school students how problems in science are outlined and tested, especially in health care sciences. It's colorful stories of people and their problems should arrest the attention of the high school student, perhaps orienting them to a career in science. For those interested in mind and consciousness, the book is a good example of the research being done by biologists-as opposed to artificial intelligence professionals and philosophers like Roger Penrose and Daniel Dennett-and makes it obvious that there is still a long way to go in this fascinating field.

I'm a Cognitive Neuroscientist and...

...I think Ramachandran is the most brilliant, creative Neuroscientist in the field. Sure, he is very popular, along with many other science writers. But if you aren't paying attention, you might not see that he is to our field what Mozart, Picasso, and Einstein were to theirs. And this book is both a masterpiece and a magnum opus. Here are some reasons to be so keen on Ramachandran: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. Most neuroscientists write primarily for their scientific peers. Ramachandran (with Blakesee) has written a book that is at once valuable to his peers and fascinating to everyone. 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. But the enthusiasm is understandable. And the book is wonderful. I recommend it!

Ramachandran's "Phantoms"

If you have read books by Oliver Sacks, M.D. (e.g., The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), this book is in the same genre and is equally interesting and worthwhile. If you haven't--both Sacks and this author are neurologists who do the rest of us a considerable and fascinating favor by telling us about their patients. (Also, maybe you saw the movie, Awakenings, that starred Robin Williams as Sacks, and Robert DeNiro as one of his patients)Both Sacks and Ramachandran arrange their patient stories under topical headings intended to elucidate the way the brain and body (especially the senses) work together, and also the nature of human personality and even consciousness itself. Ramachandran writes with great clarity, kindness and humor, and his origins in India and Hinduism provide a gently-presented, less-western point of view. His book also contains some simple but amazing mind-body experiments you can do on yourself and with friends (really). In one, you will become convinced that the top of the desk in front of you is part of your body, since you will feel it when another person touches the desk. Those of you interested in religion will find the chapter "God and Limbic System" especially fascinating. And no, the purpose of his chapter is not to denigrate or analyze away religious experience, but to better understand it, and what it means to be human.

The best popular neurology book

I read this book at a clip of several hundred pages per day. It beats most fiction for excitement and provides the impetus to read more in neurology. Neurology is truly a science and this book asks the right questions about consciousness, perception, and mental "health." I have cleaned out the library shelves on neurology and only wish there were more books like this one. The section on body image is particularly interesting--could the technique described in this book be used to help treat eating disorders and the like? It also provides a fresh perspective on the much-discussed dual-brain theory. Enjoy.
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