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Phantoms in the Brain: Human Nature and the Architecture of the Mind [Paperback]

V.S. Ramachandran , Sandra Blakeslee
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 May 1999

‘Phantoms in The Brain’ takes a revolutionary new approach to theories of the brain, from one of the world’s leading experimental neurologists.

‘Phantoms in The Brain’, using a series of case histories, introduces strange and unexplored mental worlds. Ramachandran, through his research into brain damage, has discovered that the brain is continually organising itself in response to change. A woman maintains that her left arm is not paralysed, a young man loses his right arm in a motorcycle accident, yet he continues to feel a phantom arm with vivid sensation of movement. In a series of experiments using nothing more than Q-tips and dribbles of warm water the young man helped Ramachandran discover how the brain is remapped after injury. Ramachandran believes that cases such as these illustrate fundamental principles of how the human brain operates. The brain ‘needs to create a “script” or a story to make sense of the world, a unified and internally consistent belief system’.

Ramachandran’s radical new approach will have far-reaching effects.

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Phantoms in the Brain: Human Nature and the Architecture of the Mind + The Tell-Tale Brain: Unlocking the Mystery of Human Nature: Tales of the Unexpected from Inside Your Mind + The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; New Ed edition (6 May 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857028953
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857028959
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.8 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,398 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

What would you say about a woman who, despite stroke-induced paralysis crippling the entire left side of her body, insists that she is whole and strong--who even sees her left hand reach out to grasp objects? Freud called it "denial"; neurologists call it "anosognosia". However it may be labelled, this phenomenon and others like it allow us peeks into other mental worlds and afford us considerable insight into our own.

The writings of Oliver Sacks and others have shown us that we can learn much about ourselves by looking closely at the deficits shown by people with neurological problems. VS Ramachandran has seen countless patients suffering from anosognosia, phantom limb pain, blindsight and other disorders, and he brings a remarkable mixture of clinical intuition and research savvy to bear on their problems. He is one of the few scientists who are able and willing to explore the personal, subjective ramifications of his work; he rehumanizes an often too-sterile field and captures the spirit of wonder so essential for true discovery. Phantoms in the Brain is equal parts medical mystery, scientific adventure, and philosophical speculation; Ramachandran's writing is smart, caring, and very, very funny.

Whether you're curious about the workings of the brain, interested in alternatives to expensive, high-tech science (much of Ramachandran's research is done with materials found around the home), or simply want a fresh perspective on the nature of human consciousness, you'll find satisfaction withPhantoms in the Brain. --Rob Lightner


'Gloriously accessible ... written with humility and intelligent generosity, Phantoms In The Brain grips from start to finish.' -- Guardian

'If you are at all interested in how your brain works, this is the book you must read.' -- Dr Francis Crick, Nobel Laureate

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Strong, but could be shorter. 7 Feb 2010
By varv
VS Ramachandran is a highly respected neurologist whose body of research is vast. This book tries to cover the majority of it, with some metaphysics and psychology added as well. Although I very much enjoyed the initial chapters of the book (the ones dealing with neurological patients and understanding how us 'normal' people function by understanding the dysfunction in their conditions) towards the end I felt that Ramachandran wavered from the initial excitement to a more mellow, hazy abstraction on matters of philosophy.

Ramachandran understands the implications of all of his research in understanding how consciousness manifests itself. However, he tries too hard to form a grand unified 'neuroscientific metaphysics.'He also tries to use neurological means to substantiate personal beliefs and much of his hypotheses (he does emphasize the speculative nature of his theories, one must say) are currently tenuous. I suspect that he perhaps reduced the level of complexity of many of his theories to satisfy the layman and this is unfortunate if true.

To summarise, there are numerous positive points about this book e.g. the brilliant analysis of phantom limbs and the pratical solutions associated with it, the incredibly erudite and interesting exploration of neurological deficits in patients and therefore the improvement in understanding how our brains work and finally the substantial notes section in the back of the book for an interested reader. I must also say that the writing style is excellent, both engaging and humorous. However, I feel that Ramachandran has tried to extend his theories too far in the latter section of the book. They seem highly speculative and beyond the realm of conventional science at the moment.

Therefore, I reccommend that any individual may buy this to savour those early chapters however be wary of the latter three or four chapters.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insight into neurological problems 18 April 2004
By Keith Appleyard VINE VOICE
I first heard of VS Ramachandran when quite by accident I tuned into his giving the 2003 Reith Lectures on BBC Radio 4. His entertaining & instructive style prompted me to tune in a few nights later for the next instalment, and then to go and seek out his published work.
Phantoms in the Brain is an excellent introduction to practical studies of phantom limbs syndrome, and thus into the workings of the human brain and the concept of body imaging.
As a direct consequence of reading this book, I then eagerly awaited his next offering, the transcript of those BBC Lectures.
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51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 2 Jun 1999
By A Customer
A light and approachable book talking about how the mind (appears to) work(s) - I'm not a doctor or a scientist but still found this absorbing enough to read on holiday. As a point of reference, it is most similar in tone to Oliver Sacks' books (The Man Who His Wife For A Hat).
Using examples gleaned from case histories, Dr Ramachandran takes us into the world of phantom limbs, people who see cartoons and more. Oprah it is not - rather it is a thought provoking glimpse into the yet to be fully understood workings of the brain. Recommended
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Stimulating 1 Aug 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A truly interesting book, it reads like a novel with the author telling about all these absolutely extraordinary things which people can experience simply because of some problem in their brain and he then goes on to tell exactly why they happen. I found that after finishing each chapter I just had to tell someone about the case he had been describing, then you can sound like a proper "brain surgeon" and explain to them exactly why the problem occured.
I think this book may be the best way to learn about the brain because the book is just unputdownable but you learn so much.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Robert
By taking a case by case example approach, the author takes you step by step into areas of cognitive psychology that are fascinating and insightful. It also made me want to tear up my books on cognitive psychology, as the neurological evidence contradicts many of the theories of the cognitive psychologists.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reverse engineering the brain 21 Aug 2008
Building a brain from scratch too difficult? No problem. Why not try it the other way. Dismantle a brain piece by piece to find out what each bit does (or did). OK, since this is ethically incorrect, how about waiting for patients with brain injuries to come to you and if you know which part of their brain is damaged (and there are plenty of modern techniques that can do this these days, such as PET or MRI) and if they also have behavioural or physical symptoms then you can put two and two together to infer what that piece of the brain is responsible for. This is kind of what Professor Ramachandran does. Not only does he introduce us to his patients (or composites of them), he also scours medical literature to find other celebrated cases too.

With his own patients he also sometimes devises deceptively simple experiments to probe their conditions further. Such as his Blue Peter-style mirror box which he uses on his neglect and phantom pain patients (two intriguing pathologies). The result is a fascinating book. My only slight gripe was with the last chapter, 12, which was supposed to be a summing up chapter about putting everything we'd learned together to tackle the problem of "self" via "qualia" -- the subjective, raw feel of something. For me he stretched what I'd learned in the preceding chapters too far and crammed too much information in. The result was that I finished a delightful book feeling a little frustrated. I'd like to give it 4.5 stars but demoting it to 4.0 would be too unfair.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Unbelievably interesting
I am a 16 year old boy who has just chosen to study psychology at my sixth form. I very rarely read but over the past month I have been hooked by this book and will certainly we... Read more
Published 8 months ago by George
5.0 out of 5 stars fun to read!
it's always fun to read about the quirky brain and with Ramachandran's easy everyday language anyone can take part of the fun world of neurology - liked this just as much as the... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Em. T.
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than Oliver Sachs
This is a really interesting book and has linked in well with the neuroscience modules of my medical degree. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Ross
4.0 out of 5 stars Good follow up to Oliver Sacks' work
I read Phantoms in the Brain after coming across a few good quotes from it in Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Dan Coffey
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
Combining cutting edge science and amazing stories in a funnier and an 'easy to understand for anyone' book, Dr. VS Ramachandran has contributed one of the best book of its kind.
Published on 10 July 2011 by NextDoorNerd
5.0 out of 5 stars get it!
This is a fascinating book and easy for the layman to understand. If you have an enquiring mind you're in for a treat! I go back to re-read it every couple of years. Read more
Published on 30 Jun 2011 by Dr Chris
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting neurologic cases
Fascinating, very good to read account of neurologic cases.

Ramachandran has a marvellous gift of using the English language in an efficient, easy, pleasant style. Read more
Published on 13 April 2011 by Christian Wendt
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and clear explanation
Ramachandran explains how the brain is organised and how it functions. What's more, he explores what happens when it goes wrong, especially explaining the concept of phantom limbs... Read more
Published on 22 Dec 2010 by Doctor Zeke
4.0 out of 5 stars Never thought i'd understand neuroscience!
A really interesting book with some great real life stories to frame Ramachandrans research and discussions. Read more
Published on 3 July 2010 by Hazelrv
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Rigorous but a lot of FUN!
Excellent read on neurology (understood by exploring pathology), very entertaining. At times quite speculative and Ramachandran does warn that results are anecdotal/preliminary and... Read more
Published on 7 Sep 2009 by Yoana D. Dimitrova
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