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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Phantoms in the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee

Phantoms in the Brain:  Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind
is full of strange examples of the way the brain functions and malfunctions.  Ramachandran is the neuroscientist who developed the deceptively simple mirror box to help individuals with phantom limb syndrome--and has to be one of the most broadly curious men living today.  He is full of questions, full of hypotheses, full of hunches.   When it is feasible, he goes about proving or disproving these theories, developing more questions and theories along the way.  He also admits that for many of his questions, there are no currently available means to prove what he theorizes, but it doesn't stop his questioning.

He is a "what if" kind of scientist, as well.  He asks a question, forms a hunch, then says "what happens if you do this?"  I think this is the part I like best, Ramachandran doesn't always rely on terribly expensive equipment, he formulates simple experiments and adapts and revises the process.  It isn't that he eschews the use of fMRIs , MEG, or PET scans or other remarkable technology, but he also uses more fundamental approaches.

The book covers topics such as phantom limbs, neglect syndrome, Capgras Syndrome, denial, temporal lobe epilepsy, and blind sight.   He includes plenty of examples and explains in a conversational manner that is easy to understand.  Ramachandran and Blakeslee, his co-author,  know their audience and their goal is to communicate with the lay public, not publish an academic paper.

His contributions have been such that his name and some of his work has been featured in every one of the "brain" books I've read in the last couple of years.  

V.S. Ramachandran on "On Your Mind"  (TED)
V.S. Ramachandran on Mirror Neurons  (TED)

Sandra Blakeslee also co-authored  The Body Has a Mind of Its Own How Body Maps in Your Brain Help You Do (Almost) Everything Better which I reviewed last year.

Below is an example of Rachandran's Mirror Box and an explanation of how it works.

Informative and interesting, Phantoms in the Brain is worth the time!

Nonfiction.  Neuroscience/Brain.  1998.  313 pages.  (extensive Notes; excellent bibliography)


  1. Sounds interesting! I've already added several of the brain books you've mentioned to my wish list. You're weighing ye olde wish list down. LOL

  2. My favorite is still The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge because it covered so many neuroscientists and their work, including Ramachadran.