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Phantoms in the Brain: Human Nature and the Architecture of the Mind Paperback – 7 Apr 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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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: 13 x 2.4 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 16,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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

Review

'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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4.5 out of 5 stars
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By A Customer on 2 Jun. 1999
Format: Paperback
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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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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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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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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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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I read Phantoms in the Brain after coming across a few good quotes from it in Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction.
Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Ramachandran seems to be in the same circles as Oliver Sacks and the book very much reads like a more in-depth version of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, almost a follow up to it, perhaps with a bit less sensationalism, depending on your take of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
It jumped straight into a full on explanation of phantom limbs and his experience of the whole strange topic. Although I at first felt like this was more than I ever wanted to know about phantom limbs there were some amazingly simple 'cures' for a phantom arm for example, that sounded like they should have been discovered two hundred years ago, yet were from the late 80s. He talked about patients suffering from a phantom lower arm where their hand was permanently stuck in a clenched fist position, so much so that the phantom muscles in their phantom arm ache chronically and the phantom finger-nails in the phantom fingers dig into their phantom palm causing excruciating, incurable pain.

One way he found of relieving this pain was to construct a simple black box with two holes on the front and a removable lid.
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