The Tell-Tale Brain A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human

Review From User :

Ramachandran is as wonderful a writer as he is a brilliant scientist which easy reading of not always simple science. In his book, Phantoms In The Brain: Human Nature And The Architecture Of The Mind, neurologist Ramachandran was more concerned with how the physical brain and what goes wrong with it affects the mind. A very similar field to Oliver Sacks. (They really differ in that Sacks thought of all his patients as people who had an often very interesting disorder. Ramachandran thinks of them as patients!) In this book, he is concerned with how disorders of the person that originate in the brain are related to the physical brain, to the structures of it and how it works.

In both books, everything is illustrated with examples of people and their behavioural problems with roots in neurology not psychology. Sometimes the author uses them as a jumping-off point for a lecture on the brain, neurons, the very important but hitherto unknown by me, mirror neurons, our senses and various structures of the brain.

One of the most interesting to me because I have experienced it many times in my wonderfully mispent youth (view spoiler)[ not over yet, well the youth is but the 'wonderfully mispending' or I hope not anyway (hide spoiler)] is synesthesia . This is where the senses cross over from the appropriate, like being able to see the colour blue, to the very odd or inappropriate, like also being able to listen to it, feel it, possibly smell it or associate it with a particular number.

I experienced it on LSD, everyone on acid did I think, it was one of the reasons to like it so much. I used to listen to music and then watch it unfold, dance in front of me in wonderful colours and patterns. sometimes ribbons in the sky, sometimes in puffs of warm air I could feel. An orange I peeled and ate exploded in my mouth into tiny pinpricks of colours, pure primaries and jewel tones. You never forget it's so extraordinary the sensation of there being an additional sense to the one you expect. These were not hallucinations but sensory experiences.

Sometimes though the synesthesia edged off into hallucinations (even more enjoyable). I remember that once the notes of the music got up and formed two tiny armies and marched across the carpet unfurling flags at each other in perfect time to the beat, changing colours like a chameleon keeping time with the bass guitar line. (I was kneeling by the electric fire saluting, I kid you not, kind of taking the march past of these musical note armies).\

Ultimately, in the book Ramachandran is on a quest for what makes us human and not like the animals, not one step up from the primates but completely different. What is consciousness and self-awareness, the soul if you like, and where does it lie In what structure of the brain does it reside in us and no other Is our humanity, our selfhood, not a sum of how we experience the world and think and dream at night about it Is it really to be found in a physical structure Ramachandran's book was a quest to find it and it is a good journey he takes us on, but the end is not in sight.

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