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The two main themes in this short but important book are that
1. by studying neurological syndromes, we acquire novel insights into the functions of the normal brain;
2. the functions of the brain are best understood from an evolutionary vantage point.
V. Ramachandran's examples illustrate profusely that there is no separate 'mind stuff' and 'physical stuff' in the universe. The two are one and the same. Mind is a matter of matter.
There is also an indisputable link between neurology and psychology: psychic illnesses have organic causes.
The author sees the brain as a model-making machine: virtual reality simulations, models of other people's mind.
The Darwinian aspect is always present. As T. Dobzhansky said (quoted in this book): 'Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.'
Natural selection has ensured that the subjective sensation of willing is delayed deliberately to coincide not with the onset of the brain command, but with the actual execution of the command.
The hierarchical 'tree' structure of syntax in language may be evolved from tool use. Language itself is not a specific adaptation which evolved for the sole purpose of communication.
The 'booba/kiki' effect shows that there is a pre-existing non-arbitrary translation between the visual appearance of an object and the auditory representation. Lips are physically mimicking the visual appearance of what one is saying and together with tongue movements produce 'proto-words'.
This short book with an excellent glossary is very rich. Ramachandran explains further the seeing process, why we blush, that laughter is a false alarm, why emotion overrides reason, what are the characteristics of the self, how he sees the problem of free will, how artists (Picasso, Moore) discovered the figural primitives of our perceptual grammar ('Less is more').
He stresses rightly the all importance of neurology because 'colonialism, imperialism and war originate also in the brain.'
In a few lectures Ramachandran gives the reader an insight in his bold and essential work. His magisterial main book 'Phantoms in the brain' is a must read.
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on 28 June 2011
I bought this book out of a thirst to read more of the stimulating ideas of Dr. Ramachandran, but was quite disappointed to find that the book was really a summary of the ideas presented in other books without as much depth as can be found elsewhere.
It is an excellent book with fascinating ideas which I would highly recommend for anyone who has never read Ramachandran before, but if you have read him before this book will offer very, very, very, very, very little that is new.
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on 10 August 2008
In keeping with a dishonest publishing tradition that didn't exist in the 'good old days', the US title for this book is "A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness", so don't be duped into buying the same product twice.

The contents are OK; I have given it only three stars because it is in part a repetition of R's "Phantoms in the Brain", although appreciably shorter and without the novelty value of the latter. But the book is by no means bad: if it were R's first book, I'd give it four stars.
Keep in mind though that this is a popular presentation.
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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. He has a very pleasing voice, and 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.
I read his other works whilst I waited impatiently for this publication of the transcripts of those BBC Lectures, so that I could re-read and better digest at my own pace his interesting research on phantom limbs etc. I was not disappointed.
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on 10 August 2014
If you are already familiar with the scientific writings of Vilayanur Ramachandran then you may find his Reith lectures (2013) overly familiar and now somewhat out of date.

If, however, you are fascinated by someone who even today is still at the cutting edge of neuro-science - the brain now being the new scientific 'frontier' - then this is a fantastic introduction to both Vilayanur's brilliant and original work and to a subject that is simply astounding in its range and scope, full of exciting new discoveries about the way our brain works.

Start here but read his latest work. Mind-blowing - literally!
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on 29 May 2014
I have bought several copies of this and given them to friends. If you are not familiar with the workings of the brain, then this will change your perception of what you are and who you are. It is all told through case studies in mostly non-specialist language (some terms are unavoidable, but they are used in context) and so it's an easy read. When I first read it I was inspired to do a course on neuroscience. Completely fascinating.
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on 6 June 2005
I was familiar with Ramachandran's work before I read this book, having heard his Reith Lectures and read 'Phantoms in the Brain'. Of particular interest were his insights into metaphor and synesthesia. Having read Lakoff and Johnson's 'Philosophy in the Flesh', I wondered how we link concepts 'in the brain' to bodies living in space. My first port of call was Edward S. Casey and Yi-Fu Tuan who have both written excellent books on the subject of space/place and spatial awareness. It was interesting to see Ramachandran link spatial awareness to the parietal lobes and I wonder if consciousness is not a synesthesia of our senses (including a spatial sense), or of co-ordinated bodily functions, which might give rise to metaphor. Ramachandran suggests the 'cross-wiring' occurs at the TPO junction but, of course, this means it is a cross-wiring of bodily actions in space which are reflected in the organisation of the brain.
The notion that metaphor evolved along with the body and the brain in relation to changing environments over thousands of years raises some wonderful questions about the nature of the self and of mind. I recommend any of Ramachandran's books but I think I'd like to see more on metaphor and spatial awareness as these are important to how we construct our reality in language.
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HALL OF FAMEon 14 November 2006
The mysterious world of the mind is being revealed slowly through careful research. A major stumbling block to more rapid progress is that it takes "abnormal" conditions to understand the normal ones. People with aberrant mental or physical traits must be identified, tested and diagnosed with care and insight. V.S. Ramachandran's many years of study of people with unusual perception or behaviour patterns are the support for some of the theories of mind advanced here. Presented as a series of lectures, each topic demonstrates what happens when certain areas in the brain are either disconnected, or connected too well.

The notion of the "modular" brain resulted from the discoveries of Broca's and Wernicke's areas over a century ago. There are areas for vision, speech, colour, along with a "regional map" of the entire body. Brain "mapping" through surgery or scanning devices revealed various zones in the brain showing activation in particular circumstances. For some time many of these zones were considered independent of one another. More recent work indicates two unexpected phenomena - the brain "re-maps" and specialised regions may merge functions. People who have lost limbs or suffered strokes have unexpected experiences - feeling "lost limbs" or declaring loved ones "impostors". "Re-mapping" allows different areas in the body to act as sensory substitutes for lost limbs. Amputated fingers may seen react to touches on the face, for example. In some cases, such areas as colour perception and text recognition have become "cross-wired" somehow, resulting in people associating particular numbers with colours. the author proposes this is due to these regions exchanging signals that are normally kept separate.

Ramachandran describes many of the brain areas, explaining their role and showing how damage changes behaviour. Moreover, "Rama" postulates the evolutionary roots for how various functions were likely wired into the brain in the first place. This is a departure from many studies of the brain, and may provide insights for further research and therapy. How the human brain developed can be "reverse engineered" by careful identification of today's brain functions. Perhaps more significantly, the author also offers speculation on the roots of language and art. He's clear in limiting these factors to humans and excluding other animals. He postulates a set of "10 universal laws of art", explaining the meaning of such new terms as "peak shift" and "abhorrence of coincidence". Later, he unfortunately tries to tie in these ideas with a lengthy discussion of "qualia", a traditional concept shunted aside by modern cognitive scholars.

As a text version of a set of lectures, "Brief Tour" is necessarily indeed brief. Although he's careful to explain his thinking in many situations, clinical data, particularly that obtained by others, is necessarily limited. "Rama" tries to make up for this with an extensive Notes section at the back of the book. This segment is not to be skipped over as it contains much additional information. Comprising nearly a third of the book, the Notes are a combination of sources and foundations for his arguments. He provides a fine defence of the concept of "neurophilosophy" proposed an expansion of the classical concept. We have found too much in the brain, he argues, to limit "philosophy" to what we see externally. In brief [sorry!], this book has much to recommend it. Although it falls short of being a detailed "tour" it is a fine "guide" to questions about the brain that need further explanation.
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on 13 May 2004
A great read, very quick, spoken word type of writing. It has the same style as PHANTOMS and goes into more obscure neurological disorders.
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on 8 July 2015
Bought as present for happy recipient.
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