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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What is the mind-body relationship?, 16 Sep 2005
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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S. Ramachandran ["Rama"] and Sandra Blakeslee make an earnest, plain language attempt to explain clinical research in mind-body situations. In general, they succeed well, although going to extremes in their efforts. The issue is the brain's response to many forms of trauma. Why do amputees, even people born without complete limbs, sense the presence of missing organs? Why do many patients suffering from stroke-induced paralysis insist they are still fully capable of performing physical acts? Why do so many people insist they've had a "religious experience" in the face of all logic? Rama has pursued these questions for many
years and offers us a comprehensive review of his findings and his explanations for these phenomena.
It is easy to see from this book why so many people seek Rama's counsel when suffering from neurological disorder. His unpretensious style, abstaining from complex technology when simpler forms of therapy are at hand, his undogmatic approach obviously grant him a superb "bedside manner." He is evidently not above abandoning traditional techniques or philosophies in approaching medical problems. His openly confessed desire to unravel mysteries that have eluded other researchers gives him an edge in arriving at solutions, no matter how bizarre the solutions appear. The resulting narrative is fresh and stimulating for all readers.
Rama's many cases presented here demonstrate how much more flexible the brain is than has been conceded by most other researchers. If adult brains can "remap" sensory paths in the face of devastating phsysical injury, then many ideas about the evolutionary development of the human intellect must be reconsidered. Rama, unlike most of his colleagues, is willing to examine the evolutionary roots of the mind in assessing his findings. He accepts a strong genetic basis for our cognitive skills, still aknowledging the impact of conditioning. It's a middle-of-the-road stance, somewhat marred by his unwarrented assault on evolutionary psychology. One can only wish that he'd also cited some of the recent research on the Hox genes which lay down the rules for body formation. If the Hox genes map arms, legs and ears, there is likely some impact on how the brain maps the body, as well. Rama ignores this situation, an amazing omission given his neurological foundation.
His more serious stumbles occur in his attempts to equate neurological phenomena with philosophical ramifications of his work. His addressing of cognitive science issues tends to erode much of his presentation. In reflecting how the brain deals with physiological subjects, he reverts to discredited traditional terms in dealing with areas he hasn't fully resolved. He finds "robots" in the mind which act as "alter egos" and unconsciously direct the brain's responses to unusual physical conditions. Rather than confess to ignorance of how these unexplained operations occur, he finds it more compelling to fall back on the "zombie" interpretation, which has no validity.
He compounds this misdirection in his concluding chapter ["Do Martians See Red?"] with outmoded references to "qualia." In short, "qualia" is a term applied to undefinable, but commonly accepted personal perceptions of the world around us - "red"or "taste" or "centres of gravity." We all think we can define these manifestations, but on closer inspection, we realize these are indefinable. We think we know what they are, but they elude fixation. For Ramachandran to persist in touting "qualia" as a meaningful term is a surprising lapse in an otherwise excellent book. There's a wealth of information in this book, eloquently presented, but the value here is in the research. His interpretations should be viewed with suspicion. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind
Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind by Sandra Blakeslee (Hardcover - 12 Nov 1998)
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