Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind

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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 labeled, 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. V.S. 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 with Phantoms in the Brain. --Rob Lightner

Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran is internationally renowned for uncovering answers to the deep and quirky questions of human nature that few scientists have dared to address. His bold insights about the brain are matched only by the stunning simplicity of his experiments -- using such low-tech tools as cotton swabs, glasses of water and dime-store mirrors. In Phantoms in the Brain, Dr. Ramachandran recounts how his work with patients who have bizarre neurological disorders has shed new light on the deep architecture of the brain, and what these findings tell us about who we are, how we construct our body image, why we laugh or become depressed, why we may believe in God, how we make decisions, deceive ourselves and dream, perhaps even why we're so clever at philosophy, music and art. Some of his most notable cases:

  • A woman paralyzed on the left side of her body who believes she is lifting a tray of drinks with both hands offers a unique opportunity to test Freud's theory of denial.
  • A man who insists he is talking with God challenges us to ask: Could we be "wired" for religious experience?
  • A woman who hallucinates cartoon characters illustrates how, in a sense, we are all hallucinating, all the time.
Dr. Ramachandran's inspired medical detective work pushes the boundaries of medicine's last great frontier -- the human mind -- yielding new and provocative insights into the "big questions" about consciousness and the self.

Customer Reviews:

  • Rehash of The Man With the Phantom Twin
    I was very disappointed with this book. I bought it because The Man With the Phantom Twin was a very good book and when I heard he was writing another book in a similar vein, I preordered it right away. Unfortunately, when I got the book, I found that it contains nothing that wasn't in his previous book. It's rewritten - not the same book with different title - but I don't think I'd even say the writing style was better with this book.

    If you've read his previous book, don't bother with this one....more info
  • Very enlightening!!!
    Put into layman's terms this book clearly identifies the newest topics of nueropsychology. With his wit and humor Ramachandran illustrates these topics as so the average joe could understand. If you are just starting to topple this field this is just the type of book I would recommend starting with....more info
  • Open your mind
    Dr. Ramachandran has the gift of genuis, to be able to notice significant things and make them comprehensible to the layman.

    In reviewing some of his more interesting cases over the years, Ramachandran demonstrates just how specific defects of the brain can give us illuminating glimpses into the workings of mind. And so, in exciting, easy to read chapters like "The Secret Life of James Thurber" we encounter the mystery of man who -- due to vision problems -- begins to see his world inhabited by cartoon characters. The answer to why such a phenomenon would occur is is just as intriguing as Thurber's use of it in becoming a cartoon artist.

    In "Through the Looking Glass" Ramachandran discusses what happens a stroke causes some of its victims to "forget" half their body.

    In "The Unbearable Likeness of Being" Ramachandran turns his attention to a disorder wherein people come under the illusion that beloved family members are actually imposters. In this case, like the one before it, the nature of the "forgetting" says important things about how our brains process reality and what effect that has our sensations of self.

    At the end of his book, Ramachandran joins the discussion of consciousness. It's a critical discussion because consciousness becomes to some subtext for soul. In this way, this book could serve as an excellent introduction to other works dealing with the "is consciousness an illusion issue"...excellent both because of its comprehensibility and also its commitment to the idea that in this field, as all other scientific endeavors, we need to let the evidence (and not our predispositions) direct us....more info
  • Phantoms in the Brain
    I am a long-time admirer of Dr Ramachandran's work (and Sandra Blakeslee's writings).

    Dr Ramachandran's work is frequently references in literature about neuroscience.

    I found the book first in Islamabad, where it had been published in New Delhi and sold for P Rupess 295. The illustrations in that edition were slightly smudged.

    I ordered it from the United States hoping that the illustrations would be clearer. However, in this paper back edition, they are not that much clearer than in the Indian edition.

    The wonderful content is the same, of course. Perhaps a hard back edition would have better reproduction of the illustrations.

    Guy B. Scandlen...more info
  • Awesome!
    What Pantanjali did for Yoga on the metaphysical level of reality Dr. V.S. Ramachandran has done for savants in search of the Truth on the material level.

    What an awesome book!

    It helped me accelerate my understanding of 'Human Behaviour' and I would put it on the same level as "I AM THAT" a spiritual masterpiece by Shri. Nisargadatta Maharaj.

    Thank You......more info

  • Fascinating Read
    This is one of the best science books I've read in a long time. Far from being dry and boring, the stories of his patients are truly amazing and the prose flows so well that it reads like a novel.

    Yes, there is some wild speculation here but Ramachadran clearly points out when he is doing so, and personally I thought it made the book more interesting than just laying down the facts....more info
  • Where'd those clubbed fingers go?
    On page 7, talking about lung cancer and clubbing of the fingers, Ramachandran/Blakeslee say "Remarkably, this telltale sign disappears instantly on the operating table as the surgeon removes the cancer." I know this not to be true, but I was already very impressed with the book. This kept bothering me until by page 100 or so, I decided to check out the author a little. He appeared to have exemplary credentials. Then that very afternoon the new issue of Discover Magazine arrived and I found him mentioned twice, one of those times in a short feature.

    In the preface, he says, "When writing a popular book, professional scientists always have to walk a tightrope between making the book intelligible to the general reader, on the one hand, and avoiding oversimplification, on the other, so that experts are not annoyed." Maybe the instantly cured clubbed fingers fit into this category. He also says, "Some of the cases I describe are really composites of several patients, including classics in the medical literature." Perhaps this explains it.

    Possibly it was the journalist, Blakeslee, who decided to make the situation somewhat more interesting, but then one has to consider that other conclusions may be a little enhanced.

    Be that as it may, this book presents remarkable data. It reads like a detective story and describes an empathetic doctor who has lots of rapport with his patients as he tries to help them deal with their unique problems. The book gives an excellent review of brain anatomy and function. The first 20 pages summarizes aspects of the scientific method so well, I was enthralled. As I kept reading, I found out that someone with a keen mind using curiosity, simple observations, and prop-like equipment could still uncover new scientific data.

    Other reviewers have eloquently described the contents, and I urge you to read them. Despite my criticism, this book deserves a "5", and should add to anyone's knowledge about consciousness and how the mind works. ...more info
  • A fascinating and surprisingly funny look into the mind.
    It's been awhile since i read the book but it's one of my favorites.A fun and easy read.Yet full of interesting(often simple)experiments and fascinating cases....more info
  • Does God Dwell In The Limbic System
    One way of studying the brain is to destroy parts of it in laboratory animals, and see how performance is affected. Obviously we cannot conduct similar experiments on humans. We can, however, learn a lot about human brain function by studying the behavior of people who have suffered brain damage through trauma or disease.

    Dr. Ramachandran spends his time studying such patients. His book, Phantoms In The Brain, is filled with case studies from his experiences. A significant section of the book discusses the problems of patients with phantom limb syndrome. Why does the brain continue to think an amputated limb is still present? When a patient's brain reacts as if an amputated hand is in a continually clenched position, causing much pain, how can the brain be fooled into unclenching the hand? Why does shaving sometimes feel like your amputated arm is being stimulated?

    Damage to various brain centers creates an amazing number of strange maladies. Damage to a visual area can cause "blindsight', where the patient cannot see an object, but can point out where it is. And, yes, what about the limbic system? Damage to certain areas in this system can cause various religious experiences. Then there's anosognosia. A stroke may leave one whole side of a patient paralyzed, yet the patient thinks that there is nothing wrong with him.

    This book is the perfect adjunct to reading a basic book on brain function. That's not necessary, though, as it is totally accessible to the layman, and should keep the reader spellbound. Such works also impress upon me that the brain is the mind. Damage to that vital organ can change who we are....more info

  • Cognitively engaging
    All through graduate school I knew that neuropsychology was not my area. I couldn't remember the important parts of the brain or what they did very well (and I sometimes still can't remember) and it all just seemed so complicated. Since I know it's one of my weak areas I decided to read more neurology and neuropsychology works, and this was the first book I found. I'm glad that I started with this book - it's very easy to understand yet highly informative at the same time. It's written in a very entertaining way, like a good lecture. I think this would be a great book for a graduate neuro class or even a higher level undergraduate class. Keep in mind that it's very dense, meaning that it's packed with information and doesn't give the reader many breaks from being cognitively engaged. Interestingly some of the chapters are also thought-provoking on a philosophical level (as much of psychology is), so keep that in mind as you're reading as well. ...more info
  • Terrific!
    I couldn't put this book down - it is an enthralling read from start to finish. I would love to see more from these talented authors. The stories are fascinating; the writing is superb and (I was surprised to find) very funny. I love this book....more info
  • Ramachandran is brilliant
    This book was fascinating! It reveals Ramachandran's amazing intellectual prowess, and proves we still have a great deal to learn about how the mind and body function. I love the way he debunks old beliefs and value systems about how the brain processes information, and I believe he is laying the foundation for an entirely new approach to mind/body healing. I have used this book extensively in the workshops I teach, and I highly recommend it!...more info
  • Brilliant insight into the human mind
    I absolutely love this book. It's constantly fascinating, very well written and by revealing how much our behaviour is at the mercy of brain function it's made me far more forgiving of people whose behaviour is unexpected or irrational. I recommend this book to everyone who's even vaguely interested in what makes people tick. ...more info
  • incredible read
    Dr Ramachandran's ability to clearly illustrate the workings of our complex mind is nothing short of incredible. The case studies presented are intriguing and the whole book in general kept me turning pages. ...more info
  • A book you should read
    This work, from one of the top neuroscientists around, is a fascinating look at various neurological problems and their implications for brain function. The book starts out with a description of phantom limbs and associated pain, and it offers a very convincing argument for the underlying processes that lead to these phenomena. Then as we continue to read, other phenomena are outlined, followed by intriguing explanations. As a doctoral physical therapy student, this book never ceased to hold my attention. I think most people would find it to be very interesting, although certain references to specific brain structures may go over the heads of many readers (cingulate gyrus, amygdala, hippocampus). If you would like to get the most out of this book without a functional knowledge of neuroanatomy keep an atlas of the brain nearby so you can have a visual picture to go with the names of these structures. All-in-all this is a must read for anybody with an interest in brain function, as it contains solid, original insights into the workings of the human mind. The brain is the final frontier of science, and more advances are being made than ever in our understanding of its inner workings....more info
  • I'm a Cognitive Neuroscientist and...
    ...I think Ramachandran is the most brilliant, creative Neuroscientist in the field. Sure, he is very popular, along with many other science writers. But if you aren't paying attention, you might not see that he is to our field what Mozart, Picasso, and Einstein were to theirs. And this book is both a masterpiece and a magnum opus. Here are some reasons to be so keen on Ramachandran:

    Many, many neuroscientists pick "safe" topics and stick with variants upon a theme all their lives. The work is often valuable, but it is not exactly akin to a spectator sport. Ramachandran, in contrast, chooses "sexy" topics to study.

    Most neuroscientists write primarily for their scientific peers. Ramachandran (with Blakesee) has written a book that is at once valuable to his peers and fascinating to everyone. And if you've ever seen Ramachandran speak (either to scientists or the general public), you know what I'm talking about, and you know that the book is not a fluke.

    Ramachandran does not think like other neuroscientists. Most neuroscientists pick a topic or area of the brain, and then do systematic, parametric, sensible experiments to map and test the minute details of their theory. There's usually lots of data collection and data analysis. But Ramachandran has a knack for creating "breakthrough" experiments routinely. In these experiments, the answer to a sexy question comes instantly, dramatically, and powerfully. Such creative, intuitive genius is extremely rare. Trust me, we'd all like to do science this way.

    I hope that we can appreciate that Ramachandran incorporates a wide variety of worldviews as he creates gem after gem. He is from the great culture that was and is southern India; he is a medical doctor and neurologist; he is a reknowned perceptual and cognitive neuroscientist who trained with master academics in England; and he is passionately insightful about art. I've heard people compare Ramachandran to mystics, healers and others. The cult status is of course a little ridiculous. But the enthusiasm is understandable. And the book is wonderful. I recommend it!...more info

  • you don't have to be a brain surgeon ...
    phantoms in the brain is written by dr. ramachandran who is a neuro scientist. when i first picked up the book intrigued by its best-seller status and the attractive blurb, i wondered if i would comprehend half of what the good doctor had to say about the brain and how it worked. well, for one, you dont need to be a brain surgeon to be able to get into, comprehend and thoroughly enjoy this fabulous book that reveals fascinating insights into the work of the brain.
    the best part of the book is that dr.ramachandran treats his subject matter with a very light touch and keeps the tone constantly entertaining, engaging and lucid. this is like listening to your favourite uncle or grandfather tell you exciting bizarre and out of the world stories, except that dr.ramachandran adds to it startling insights into the working of the brain.

    dr. ramachandran explains how one doesnt have to be a reseacrh assistant in a modertn lab to try out some of the elarnings, giving examples of how one can experiment with things found around your living room. reading the book one feels that this is the kindly doctor who you remember very fondly as a child. dr. ramachandrtan displays a fabulous sense of humour.

    Ramachandran is that rare human - with a great faculty for logic and the humility to accept that it doesnt explain everything. read this book to appreciate it. ...more info
  • How the mind affects perceived reality.
    As an old machine designer I know that one way to find out what function a part plays in a machine is to take it out and see how the machine works without it. In this fascinating book Dr. Ramachandran does the same thing with the human brain, except in the reverse manner. He selects people with unusual sensory or operating defects and tries to assign their causes to specific physical damages that exist in their brains. In the process he does a marvelous job of explaining the convoluted workings of the human brain.

    His examples are quite fantastic. A man who thinks his left arm belongs to a cadaver which the interns put in his bed and a woman who can correctly insert an envelope through a mail slot she cannot see are just two examples. It becomes obvious that the reality of the universe we perceive lies entirely in our brains. The unasked question then is, if our brains were different would our perceived reality also be different? If so, how can we be certain what is the actual reality?

    A very readable book, making allowance for brain nomenclature, is a must read for anyone interested in the workings of the mind.

    (The writer is the author of "The Way of the Butterfly: A Scientific Speculation on God and the Hereafter," and of "Christianity Without Fairy Tales: When Science And Religion Merge.")
    ...more info
  • Absolutely Fantastic Book
    While this book may not be for everyone, I believe that most people will have a hard time putting it down. Ramachandran's ability to explain absurdly complicated concepts with simple language and simple methods is just one of the facets of his genius. After readking Phantoms I burned through at least 4 other books he wrote, but still Phantoms is by far the best. ...more info
  • POP! Thats the sound my brain made every time I turned the page
    Oh my goodness! This book BLEW my mind! This is by far the best book out there for anyone who is interested in the strange things our brains do, and why they do them. This book is absolutly fascinating... and surprisingly easy to read! LOVED IT...more info
  • Phenomenal Collection
    The assembled stories are truly amazing, prompting a thoughtful reanalysis of the way our minds work and what it means to be human. Dr. Ramachandran's writing (or ghost-writing; I note there are two authors listed) is excellent, as well. He describes his cases with compassion and enthusiastically explores the possible meanings of his observations. He explores topics ranging from body imaging, the inner workings of vision, hemispheric specialization, to the neurological correlates to religious experience. Though I don't think his conclusions are always foolproof (and neither does he), there is a great deal of food for thought here, enough to keep you thinking about the nature of the brain and human experience long after the final page is turned....more info
  • Terrific and gripping explanations of the most complex system
    This book deals with every aspect of human mind and thinking. I read his
    Reith lectures before this. While "The Emerging Mind" has also great essays
    on different aspects, "Phantoms in the brain", is more leisurely, replete with
    those terrific, speculative yet simple, experiments. Like Dr. Ramachandran
    himself characterises the universal quality of the most creative insight
    with a "why didn't *I* think of that!", these experiments are so creative, that
    you tend to make this rhetorical remark after he designs his experiments following
    the case-study description. And told with such humour!

    He builds up the knowledge on the subject with these experiments on troubled
    people ending up speculating on subjects such as genius' qualities, savants
    and God. Overall an inspiring and awesome read.

    (Hearing him speak is a treat too! One can sense the passion behind his inquisitive
    mind)...more info
  • Funny and fascinating!
    I'm a student of Dr.Rama at UCSD and I've read phantoms for the class. The book, like his lectures, is funny yet informative. I'd recommend it to anybody who is fascinated in the human brain, not just his students....more info
  • stimulating
    "What we call rational grounds for our beliefs are often extremely irrational attempts to justify our instincts. "
    Thomas Huxley

    VS Ramachandran shot to prominence with his explanation for the "phantom limb syndrome" (which occurs when people continue to vividly experience the amputated part of their body). VSR found that the experience of the phantom limb arises because the brain area which normally controls the (now amputated) limb gets invaded by neurons from neighbouring regions of the brain. Thus when the region formerly devoted to sensing the arm is invaded by neighbouring neurons which respond to face stimulation, the amputee feels his arm when he is stroked across the face. A striking example of such remapping was found in a man who experiences during sexual intercourse the orgasms in his phantom foot - since genitals are in the brain's body map right next to the foot, the nerve cells from the genital area take over the region formerly occupied by the "foot neurons" resulting in migration of the orgasm into the phantom foot. This makes one wonder about the basis of foot fetishes in normal people....

    There are many intriguing chapters on blindsight, the concept of "self" and the issue of qualia, so beloved of neurophilosphers. Where the book is at its strongest, however, is when R. draws directly on his clinical experience. He tells scores of amazing stories of patients with symptoms and syndromes which affected their perception, conceptualization, self-awareness and self-knowledge. This book succesfully shows us that conscious mind is simply a thin facade for the (mostly unconscious "self") - that there is a huge gray space between seeing and knowing, of which we are completely unaware.

    One especially intriguing issue is that of religious experience. It has been long known that people with temporal lobe epilepsy often "find God". Temporal lobes of the brain are the interface between perception and action and what strikes R. is the closeness between emotional centers of the brain (such as the amygdala), centers devoted to memory (the hippocampus) and sensory areas of the temporal cortex. An epileptic fit might "kindle" - reinforce - connections between these brain areas so that communication between them would be increased and people would experience all events (as well as themselves) as imbued with deep significance. Everything in the universe would be seen as conscious and be "carried by a universal tide to the shores of Nirvana". In contrast, a patient with Cotard's syndrome feels so emotionally remote from the world that he will actually make the absurd claim that he is dead or that he can smell his flesh rotting. What this book provides us with, therefore, is an intimate peek into how fragile our reality constructs are and how grateful we should be to these few pounds of gelatinous flesh for the constant reality checks (and un-checks) that they provide us with.

    There are other fine popular books by prominent brain scientists(Damasio, Churchland, LeDoux and Crick come to mind). I think Ramachandran surpasses them all with his extraordinary experimental ingenuity and curiosity which drive him far away from the ivory tower of clinical science and all the way down to the greener pastures inhabited by psychoanalysis and religion.

    Whatever she did, Sandra Blakeslee did an excellent job in making the book readable and enjoyable...more info

  • How our brain "works"
    He was a fantastic writer, and I spent most of my time reading this book thinking, "Oh, cool!"...more info
  • layman's point of view
    There are clearly alot of books out there about the field of neuroscience; just a quick browse around the site and you can find everything from confirmations of metaphysical ability to nitty-gritty medical details about the human brain. When I set out to read this book, I was looking for something realistic but approachable, and that is exactly what I found. Ramachandran convinces me of his extensive experience while still keeping me entertained and enthusiastic about the topic at hand. One thing that was a bit frustrating was the tendency of the author to not be specific in language at times when it may well be crucial; when he refers to a "path" in the brain, it is sometimes unclear whether he means a certain set of synapses firing, certain groups of neurons working, or whether he simply can't be any more specific.

    You will probably be excited and intrigued by the specific case studies that he mentions in the book; many seem unbeleivable, and that is really what gives the book its fascination factor. But at the same time, the author manages to slip in technical details and theories and keep your interest. The notes section, while appropriately supplemental to the text, can be a little repetitive. I found on more than one occasion that I flipped eagerly to the notes to get a fuller picture, flipped back, and found that the notes were saying something that was almost identical to the next sentence of the text itself.

    All in all, I would say that this is a fine book for the curious layperson, however I can guess that a hardcore professional would find it to be fluff....more info

  • Aha!!
    The most mind expanding book I've ever read. It answered so many previously unfathomable questions about who we are and what "meaning" is. For the greatest impact I recommend reading it together with "The Selfish Gene"....more info
  • So *this* explains my weird friends!
    Well, maybe it doesn't explain that much. But if you've ever wondered why your sister was an atheist and your brother claims to see visions, you'll find an explanation here. Dr. Ramachandran does go into great detail about the "oddities" we perceive in other peoples' characters, and how they may be explained by biology. I would have given the book four and a half stars if I had the option--the book would have lost half a star for redundancy. The author tends to repeat himself; however, it doesn't detract too much from readability (and enjoyability). This book is an easy read--I read it on a coast-to-coast airplane flight and it saved me from watching a mind-numbing (no pun intended) movie. I'd recommend skipping whatever fiction you were about to pick up, and exploring your brain a bit with this book. You'll never look at your brother, the prophet, the same again....more info
  • i didn't read the book, but...
    i saw this guy on a nova tv show and was very impressed. i'm an atheist/libertarian and it is refreshing to see someone with a open, scientific mind like him....more info
  • Good for those considering Cognitive Science as a major
    This books presents detailed and well documented transcripts of clinical trials in the areas of neuroscience/ology. A few interesting experiments involved subduing a patients phantom limb pain, in this case the sensations of their own fingers clawing into their palm, by constructing a simple box paneled with mirrors that would provide the visual of having two hands to a hand amputee patient. Another case is in plasticity where the rubbing certain areas of a patients face with a Q-tip invoked sensations of the Q-tip rubbing along the now amputated hand. This is also the first book I have read that had so many interesting and insightful footnotes. ...more info
  • Amazing book!
    I don't write a lot of reviews on Amazon, but I had to add my five stars for this book. It's easy for the lay person (like myself) to understand, but at the same time quite deep and thought-provoking. I couldn't put it down, and after reading it, I want to read it again (rare for me)! I've recommended it to all my friends and family....more info
  • Closeness to Spirituality
    Recent trends of neurology being close to spirituality as reflected in the works of Sir Charles Sherrington, Gray Walter and others finds a new perspective in this book. Ramachandran has hinted at this closeness at various places of his book and gives a clue that the day is not far when many spiritual problems of man can be found to have a deep relation with his neurological constitution.

    Its refreshing to see a new light thrown on this subject. Ramachandran joins class with very few who endeavoured to join this quest. This book is a must for all who want to probe into the deeper truths of life....more info

  • A deep, important book written in a disarming style.
    Rama is a brilliant, world renowned neuroscientist. Phantoms recounts personal experience and personal, sometimes humorous observations, and could be read for these qualities alone. It is a great book because of what it has to say. The subject is how the brain works from a conceptual viewpoint, with a focus on consciousness. Typically, the behavior of patients with brain damage suggest hypothesis, and these hypothesis are investigated by additional experimentation, as well as by brain imaging, which can detect which neurons are firing in response to stimuli. The physiology of the brain is considered, but only to the extent necessary to the narrative. A warning to the reader: the book is disarming in that some very difficult material is presented in a wonderfully simple and engaging style; this is not a book to be read in one sitting. I would have benefited from more material in the last chapter on what is the essence of conscious perception; while the ideas are exciting, I need more examples to pin them down. To nitpick, I think Rama. slights the artistic capabilities of animals, and is a little condescending, and perhaps not very knowledgeable, about psychiatry. He makes fun of evolutionary psychology, but also makes use of it....more info
  • You don't have to be a doctor to enjoy this book
    You don't even have to be involved in the healthcare profession, all you have to do is be interested in the workings of the brain.
    This book is filled with examples of how the brain works - how a stroke will lead a woman to neglect and even deny the existence of of the non-functioning part of her body. How you can do experiments with your own "blind spots" and watch how your brain supplies the missing information. It explains how different traumas affect the brain and the outcomes of this trauma.

    But it's told in an engaging humorous way, on a personal level by somebody who is absolutely fascinated by what he (and she) find out about the workings of the brain. You don't have to sit with the medical dictionary by your side, pausing every few sentences to look up a term. Medical terms are explained in laymen's language so you always know exactly what is being discussed.

    But it's not an easily absorbed book. It makes you think about how psychology and physical trauma to the brain are interrelated.
    It may, depending on your own history, make you nod in recognition at various diagnosis. You won't want to read this all in one setting because you will need time to process the information.

    But if you're interested in how the brain works, if you're willing to stretch your reading a bit, this is a great book to read. I recommend it highly....more info

  • Fascinating insight into neurological problems
    I first heard of VS Ramachandran when quite by accident I tuned into his giving the 2003 Reith Lectures on BBC Radio 4 (like PBS). 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....more info

  • Great read
    I am an IT professional working for an MNC.When I first looked at this book, I was not very sure if i can understand the complex subject the book dealt with.
    But now,after having read the book, I feel its just great.
    Some of the incidents in the book are surprising and thought provoking.
    Very interesting narration about how the brain works, human vision and why we behave in a particular way.

    Now, everytime i come across the word 'phantom' I recollect this book....more info

  • amaizing
    This is one of the most interesting book about the brain I've ever read. Dr. Ramachandran teach every aspect in such a easy way, that you will love this book...more info
  • Fundamental questions and answers.
    This is without a shadow of a doubt a very important book, written with a lot of humour by a true humanist.
    To name a few very important topics: this work proves incontestably that the brain doesn't work like a computer. It stresses the essentiality of an evolutionary perspective. It shows that the self is an illusion and that every human brain possesses a genetically fixed innate human body image. It shows that our observations are based on comparisons and not on absolute values.
    It poses crucial questions like: is there a place for God in the brain and could we really surgically take God out of it?

    And last but not least, it gives a solution for one of the oldest philosophical problems on which numerous authors spent thousands of pages: the body/mind problem. Prof. Ramachandran proves correctly that the body/mind duality is a translation problem.

    These are only a few items treated in this superbly written rich scientific exploratory expedition of the brain. A must read....more info

  • And the point is....
    Reading this book gives one a foundation on which to build the complete picture. Yes, the book is not giving the reader the complete picture. But it does provide the foundation. Now what the reader needs to do is study the books on the Buddhist teachings of emptiness by Guy Newland or Jeffrey Hopkins. After having done this, now one is able to connect the dots, build the complete picture. What is very odd is how authors of this discipline, with all their studies, with all their research, have not yet arrived at this juncture. truly makes one wonder....more info
  • Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind
    Excellent service from vender: well packaged, fast delivery!...more info
  • The best popular neurology book
    I read this book at a clip of several hundred pages per day. It beats most fiction for excitement and provides the impetus to read more in neurology. Neurology is truly a science and this book asks the right questions about consciousness, perception, and mental "health." I have cleaned out the library shelves on neurology and only wish there were more books like this one. The section on body image is particularly interesting--could the technique described in this book be used to help treat eating disorders and the like? It also provides a fresh perspective on the much-discussed dual-brain theory. Enjoy....more info
  • A must read!
    This book has a wealth of case studies that provide an awe inspiring look into the workings of the brain. Often the only way to gain new insights into the brain is when something goes wrong. Ramachandran does a wonderful job of presenting his collection. I first got this book as text during my undergraduate degree. I still delve into it for interesting reading and for its usefulness. Ramachandran is more technical than Oliver Sacks writing style in Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, but it is still very readable and thought provoking....more info
  • What is the mind-body relationship?
    V.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....more info

  • Simply AMAZING
    This is one of the best books I have ever read....more info
  • Are there phantoms in our brain or is our self a phantom?
    This book is a compilation of interesting clinical cases in neurosciences, brain injury and therapy, mainly unrelated to one another. You could easily read only those chapters of your interest.

    It seemed to me that as "unifying thesis", the author chose the idea of the "self" and how it might be only a "phantom" of our brain, suggesting that the "unity" and individuality that we perceive as self might be an illusion created by the way our mind works. He illustrates how this illusion of unity is broken with some brain injuries, like people that "neglect" their left part of the body, people that see "visions" or people that don't perceive parts of their body as belonging to them but to other persons.

    In the section related to phantom limbs, the author explains the idea that we are born with a "body image" that persists even after a limb has been amputated, that after such an amputation, the neural circuitry in our brains "remap" and that we can "trick" our brain with mirror images of our body, thereby demonstrating that our self perception is a "making" of our neural connections.

    In another section the author states that there are two different neural pathways that start in the eyes, one that leads to the object recognition part of our brains and the other that allows for space awareness and motion. In this chapter, the author mentions that injury in the first neural pathway can lead to people that see without seeing, meaning that they "perceive" and can act upon this perception, but they are not consciously aware of it (as if guided by a phantom in their brains, not by their conscious self).

    The author does not succeed to unify all the clinical cases presented in the book with the "phantom of the self" idea since in most cases he does not make the connection evident enough, so what should probably be one of the main ideas of the book ends up being weekly supported and remains largely unnoticed by the reader. I do not fully understand the biological, philosophical and social implications of this thesis and I would have liked that the author had explored it a bit more deeply. Since the author merely suggests the underlying topic, I suppose he did not want to enter "dangerous" philosophical terrain and be taken away by making assumptions for which there needs to be more evidence (few authors resist commenting on their personal positions). So he saved his very good scientific material and clinical cases from becoming a subject of controversy and polemics.

    ...more info
  • Simply amazing
    This very able neuroscientist clearly and concisely explains some of the stranger phenomena that follow from the damaged human brain. A highlight comes when he discovers a way to lessen (or eliminate) amputees' phantom limb pain with a jerry-rigged mirror in a box.

    Brilliant....more info

  • An interesting and entertaining book
    The brain is a most fascinating organ, and this book opens a window on some of its features by illustrating what can happen as a result of diseases or other events. Despite the seriousness of the topic, the book is entertaining, even though stopping for a moment to put yourself in the shoes of the people to whom these events happen is immediately sobering. The author has built the characters he describes by mixing together several patients (at least, this is what the author reports), which I thought was a good thing because I imagined that the patients would otherwise be very recognizable.
    I know too little about the brain to be able to judge the book on its scientific merits, but this is an overall good read....more info
  • Accessible Neuroscience
    I got this book after watching talks given by VS Ramachandran. His presentations were always fascinating and thought provoking so naturally I had to get this book. "Phantoms in the Brain" does not disappoint utilising pathologies of the brain to obtain an understanding into the nature of consciousness, the human mind and neurology. The book was not full of jargon and the lay person should be able to understand the concepts in question.

    For those who are not familiar with what scientists understand about the nature of the human mind, this book will make you realise that we know so much, yet so little, and I doubt you could finish this book without it changing the way you view yourself and the world....more info
  • engaging and intrguing
    Neurology and the field's bizarre unsolved problems are some of the most fascinating and intriguing things. I love reading and pondering on such things as "the Phantom Limb" - experiencing pain in amputated limbs, "Somatoparaphrenia" - the perception that one's limb(s) belong to someone else, "Cotard's syndrome" - the perception that one is dead, "Anosognosia" - the inability to perceive that one has physical defects, dispite obvious evidence to the contrary. These are just some of the intriguing and bizarre neurological syndromes/problems discussed in this book by a pioneering Neurologist (V.S. Ramanchandran) who is credited with performing the world's first sucessful "phamtom limb amputation". Read this book to find out how he was able to do it not with medication or surgery, but with a simple box and a mirror. Some have told me that you have to have at least a masters degree in a scientific field to understand this book. I do not get that impression however. I do think that at least a rudimentary understanding of biology would be helpful, but it's not necessary. This book can be read and enjoyed by any reasonably intelligent adult.

    Reading books like this and pondering on the material herein helps us to appreciate the complexity of the human mind. ...more info
  • An excellent, readible account of mind and brain study
    Phantoms in the Brain is not only a marvelous narrative of the quirky facets of the brain and the mind, it is also a good illustration of the advances made in neurology over the past 30 years. Indeed if you take into account the extensive career of Freud, who was himself a neuro-anatomist prior to pursuing his medical profession, neurology and neuropsychology have well over a 150 years behind them.

    In the book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, written in the 1970 and reprinted a number of times since, Oliver Sacks illustrates peculiar neurological deficits arising from various insults to the brain, from tumors to strokes and seizures. Although he can pinpoint the areas of brain compromise that cause the patient's problems and, like Freud, give the reader some theory as to what aspect of the "self" is effected, he does little beyond this. In Phantoms of the Brain, Ramachandran recounts numerous colorful stories, but develops a theory of what level of brain function is the cause of the observed deficits, then proceeds to test his theory with further study, making the "self" a topic of research. In the true spirit of scientific research he publishes his findings and elicits input from fellows in the field. Where there is a discrepancy, he and others conduct further research to illuminate the findings and integrate the data into the overall theory. While he freely admits that a true science of the mind is in its infancy, he also points at the major advances made since Freud's work.

    One of the things I found most unique about the author's style is that he points out the pertinent contributions in the works of other, often earlier researchers, particularly Freud. It seems to have become fashionable to treat Freud and his work with great disrespect, ignoring that he was a man of his times and very progressive in his thinking for that time. Not all of his work is useless, particularly that in neuro-anatomy, and as is often the case in science, as more research is done today it may be found that some of his theoretical work is less faulty than has been thought. Ramachandran gleans the traces of gold from the mine of Freud's work and integrates them into his own.

    The author's writing style is conversational and clear. He appears to be a natural teacher, making the work obtainable for any person with average reading skills. It might make a good book for showing high school students how problems in science are outlined and tested, especially in health care sciences. It's colorful stories of people and their problems should arrest the attention of the high school student, perhaps orienting them to a career in science. For those interested in mind and consciousness, the book is a good example of the research being done by biologists-as opposed to artificial intelligence professionals and philosophers like Roger Penrose and Daniel Dennett-and makes it obvious that there is still a long way to go in this fascinating field....more info

  • ehh...
    I'm a huge fan of Oliver Sacks. This book kept appearing as a recommendation on all the bookstores & online bookstores I've come across. While phantom situations is an extremely interesting topic, I found this book very dry compared to Oliver Sacks' books.

    I'm not trying to say 'Don't read the book'. It's still an okay book because it's an interesting topic. But, it was tough reaching the end of the book -- I probably only kept reading in hopes that something amazing would come forth...

    I'm a mean reviewer, I know. I'm not from the medical field whatsoever, so maybe that's why I don't have a deep appreciation for this book. The book is worth a chance if someone gives it to you, but it's definitely not worth the full retail price.

    ...more info
  • search for the soul
    Imagine a woman sitting in front of a mirror who applies lipstick and mascara to only one side of her face because she is unaware of the other side.

    Imagine one who is truly and fully blind but can locate objects in his visual field.

    Imagine cold water in one's ear altering ones perception of the functionality of the left side of his body.

    Imagine someone with a severed arm feeling his phantom fingers and routinely counting on them or feeling pain in them.

    Imagine a simple experiment that you could perform to convince yourself that your nose is three feet long.

    This is a fascinating book that no inquiring mind would want to miss.

    Dr. Ramachandran uses scientific methodology to tell us why. Actually he is telling us what is going on in the brain that results in these manifestations. And unlike the speculative Freud, he designs simple tests to test his hypotheses.

    He and his colleagues have found much about the inner workings of the brain and the nature of the human condition. Much of the work has been elucidated by studying the behavior of brain injured individuals. The findings help us understand why denial and confabulation and defense mechanisms are so a part of the human condition. His findings suggest that part of the left hemisphere of our brain is obsessively resilient at attempts to alter our world view. Perhaps there is a deep rooted reason in our brains why we often seem to talk `over' one another.

    "The left hemisphere's job is to create a belief system and a model and to fold new experiences into that belief system. If confronted with some new information that doesn't fit the model, it relies on Freudian defense mechanisms to deny, repress or confabulate -anything to preserve the status quo."

    Ramachandran's central and most perplexing and challenging question in the book seems to be: "How could something as deeply mysterious as consciousness emerge from a chunk of meat inside the skull?"

    His answer to the question seems to be, "Science - cosmology, evolution, and especially the brain sciences - is telling us that our sense of having a private nonmaterial soul `watching the world' is really an illusion...."

    I would argue, on the other hand, that "I" or "consciousness" or "self awareness" is qualitatively different from the physical processes of mapping and manipulating data from the external environment and providing motor outputs, intriguing and counter intuitive as these processes might seem.

    I would argue that these processes do not "give rise to" but "facilitate a merger" with or are "associated" with consciousness. The color red is BOTH a specific frequency of light AND a spiritual entity in MY awareness - yet these two manifestations are QUALITATIVEY different.

    Dr. Ramachandran, himself, is perplexed how Savant talents can be explained by Darwinian Evolution. How can certain individuals routinely come up with the cube root of a six figure number in seconds? How can another know the exact time of day, to the exact second, without reference to a timepiece?

    I think Ramachandran builds a good case for an autonomous [phantom] functioning in our brains without awareness. He says, "Indeed, most of your actions are carried out by a host of unconscious zombies who exist in peaceful harmony along with you (the `person') inside your body!"

    What he has unfolded are the marvelous and mysterious complexities of gathering data from the external world for presentation, manipulation and execution. He quotes the cosmologist Paul Davies saying: "How we have become linked into this cosmic dimension is a mystery." I think that word linked is very descriptive. How is the intersection of the spiritual and the material interfaced?

    Shakespeare suggested we are like actors on a stage. There is a qualitative differences between the act and the stage - the interaction of conscious souls and the evolutionary mechanism that created the substrata - the spiritual [greed, love, smell, music, mathematics, awareness] and the physical.

    Ramachandran tells us correctly that Eastern mystical traditions like Hinduism refer to the "I" as an illusion but he does not mention that reincarnation is also a prominent component of these traditions. In the Western religious tradition there is an "immortal soul" that is postulated.

    Dr. Ian Stevenson, Director of the Division of Personality Studies at the Health Sciences Center, University of Virginia, in his 1997 book, "Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect", has done some scientific research with children who claim to remember a previous life.

    He has obtained specific information from children which he has matched with their former identities. Their seems to be a relationship with birthmarks and death - particularly of the violent type - linking specific present and past identities. These evidences would tend to support reincarnation of something like a "soul."

    On a more speculative plain, the external world might eternally be out there on a timeline, where `souls' can visit what we might regard as the proper seats of consciousness in humans, much as one visits a zoo.

    There is likely more out there in the continuum of reality than is as of yet found in our dreams or science.

    Dr. Ramachandran keep asking those questions. Keep reading the footprints of God....more info

  • Interesting but long winded
    An interesting book containing some nice facts and intriguing cases but with a lot of padding. It felt like the author was being paid by the word. Books by Oliver Sacks are a better coverage of the subject of the mind because they are much "meatier"....more info
  • five stars
    Phantoms in the Brain is a non-fiction authored by V. S. Ramachandran, Professor and Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, University of California, San Diego. By citing examples from his real life experiences with patients, and performing simple, domestic scientific experiments with them, Ramachandran takes the reader through an intellectual adventure of exploring how the human brain functions. Ramachandran's revelations of the nature of human mind brings the reader close to realizing why the world, as we see it, is an illusion.
    ...more info
  • Reveals the most amazing phenomenon in modern science
    I have a background in computer science and stumbled upon this book in my research of artificial intelligence. What Ramachandran presents here is hands down the most interesting science material for the lay person that I have yet to read. I have read many non-fiction books about quantum theory, artificial intelligence, information theory, futurology and space, yet the implications of the disorders presented in this book are potentially the most astonishing, particularly the left-side neglect cases. I especially liked how Ramachandran went through Freud's findings on the un/sub-conscious and related the brain disorders to extreme cases of Frued's defense mechanisms such as denial, distortion, projection....more info
  • Exemplary lateral thinking
    I *truly* enjoyed this book - not just for all the fascinating new things I've learned about how the brain works, but because of Ramachandran's whole approach to research and writing. He doesn't seem to take himself, others, or research overly seriously - he exudes warmth, humanity, and humor, while being interesting and rigorous. His creative way of looking at things is an inspiration - it is an approach that we all would do well to apply to our own field of study. We all have lots to learn from dysfunction - in my own field it's the language mistakes of my students that have taught me so much about English. Rather than being something to disdain or be impatient with, dysfunction offers clues to all kinds of human riddles. The key lies in making the effort to find what it can teach us, something Ramachandran does like few others I've encountered. Super, super book....more info
  • If you're reading this ...
    If you're reading this review, then you're wasting your time by not reading the book. A friend gave me his copy of the book and I literally could not put the book down. Later, I decided that I wanted a copy for myself.

    The book is extremely well written; not only Ramachandran is one of the leading scientists, he also possesses an affinity for writing. It even gets better, you will be delighted by his sense of humor which adds to the joy of reading.

    The most important aspect of the book is of course the science content. While one or two sections might seem a bit technical (I am fairly certain anyone can handle those sections), the science in general is well explained and is highly awe spiring. I will never forget my excitement and sense of wonder while I was reading through this book. If you want to have an idea of how we see, how we think, how our brains operate then this book is highly recommended....more info
  • An Exciting and Entertaining Foray into the Mind
    Phantoms in the Brain is a summary of V.S. Ramachandran's experiences as a researcher in the field of neuroscience. In Phantoms in the Brain, Ramachandran combines personal anecdotes, well-designed experiments, and educated conjecture in an entertaining, well-written narrative suitable for anyone interested in discovering more about how the human mind works.

    Phantoms is laid out in an easy-to-follow, consistent manner. In general, each chapter introduces a new case study, and Ramachandran recounts his clever experiments to burrow into the cause and nature of his patients' problems. He then often expands into a brief, layman-friendly description of the related neuroanatomy, which is typically supported by helpful illustrations and diagrams. Ramachandran then sometimes delves into conjecture into how his findings explain human nature. The layout of the book is excellent, as the chapters are clearly divided, allowing the reader to advance at his or her own pace.


    One of the most remarkable aspects of Phantoms of the Brain is how vividly Ramachandran brings his patients to life for the reader. In fact, "patient" is a quite sterile term for how Ramachandran interacts with them; he becomes their friend and leader on his quest for insight into their neurological abnormalities. Ramachandran does an excellent job of describing their mental deviations, from amputees with "phantom limbs" to stroke victims with "hemi-neglect," who ignore everything in half of their world (field of vision). He also takes care to keep his phraseology on the underlying brain anatomy as accessible as possible to the casual reader while avoiding neglect of important biological aspects important to the case studies. Ramachandran comes off as a natural teacher; his explanations are excellent. His style is fast-paced and entertaining while taking care to provide ample detail so that the reader understands the subject matter at hand. Often, he mixes humor and experiments that the reader can perform (such as blind spot experiments) into his discussion, making the book genuinely interactive.

    Even so, the most impressive quality of Phantoms in the Brain is not its style but its content. The experiments Ramachandran conducts on and with his patients are ingenious; they benefit the patient while being both simple to perform and genuinely insightful into the underlying neuroscience. For example, in one case, Ramachandran presents an arm amputee who complains of persistent pain due to his phantom fist being clinched tightly and permanently. Ramachandran develops a clever device using only a box and mirror to relieve the patient's pain. His ingenuity and resourcefulness often prevails where many doctors' failed previously. However, his account does not stop with the improvement in condition of the patient; he looks into the science to explain the changes that occurred in both the neurological abnormality's formation and in his treatment.

    Such experiments lead Ramachandran into one final frontier: the very nature of the self. As he put it, "what I didn't realize, though, when I began these experiments, was that they would take me right into the heart of human nature" (137). And Ramachandran does not hesitate to offer his opinion on what it means to be human. In this commentary on what it means to be human lies Phantoms in the Brain's one flaw: Ramachandran often overextends himself on his philosophical conjecturing, leading to premature and sometimes contradicting conclusions. Early on, Ramachandran declares that our inner being, "despite all its appearance of durability, is an entirely transitory internal construct that can be profoundly modified with a just a few simple tricks. It is merely a shell that you've temporarily created for successfully passing on your genes to your offspring" (62). He counts that "our sense of having a private nonmaterial soul... is really an illusion" (256). However, in the same breath he supports the notion that self-awareness is "no trivial detail, no minor by-product of mindless, purposeless forces. We are truly meant to be here" (257). He also extols the work of Shakespeare, yet admits that "the proverbial monkey with a typewriter" (197) could not approach his genius; an abstract "spark" is needed.

    This philosophical conjecture does not severely hamper the effectiveness as the work of a whole. Ramachandran often includes quotes from sources as wide-ranging as Ovid, Shakespeare, and Nietzsche. These contributions, including an interesting retake on Freud, inspire the reader to think above and beyond the function of the brain to what it means to be human. He encourages the reader to think for himself, saying "the moral of this tale is that you should not reject an idea as outlandish simply because you can't think of a mechanism that explains it" (223-4). Regardless, the philosophical musings should not and do not take away from what Phantoms in the Brain truly is: an excellent display of V.S. Ramachandran's gifted and innovative research methods and his incredible results.

    Bottom Line

    Phantoms in the Brain is highly recommended for anyone interested in the field of neuroscience. In fact, Phantoms is a great read for anyone involved in experimental science of any sort, from economics to biology. His methods and explanations are brilliant in their effectiveness and simplicity, and Phantoms in the Brain describes them well. Every field of science could learn from this account of Ramachandran's studies....more info
  • Opening the Black Box
    A top neurologist discusses what we know about how the brain works, based on his studies of "phantom limbs" and other conditions. This is a very interesting book, probing the mysteries of memory, consciousness and what the "self" is. ...more info
  • Illuminating!
    Science writing is not an easy job. And that is particularly why this book succeeds at two levels - content & lucidity.

    Dr. Ramchandran is a very erudite man. But read this book & you'll find all the esoteric concepts of neuroscience are well within your grasp. Dr. Ramchandran visits & revisits the various parts of the brain & its interconnections in just about every discourse in this book, & by the time you're finished reading it, you'll have a good general idea of how it all works together.

    But what if it does not? In what different ways can it fall out of place? This book is the doctor's account of his various cases, & as he dissects the minds of his patient (& as he jokingly mentions at the beginning of the book), the investigation is indeed reminiscent of a detective novel - Holmes', as the doctor would like to believe. Generally, the doctor would propose multiple solutions or hypotheses, & then clinically eliminate them given the our current knowledge of neurosciences. Where it is not possible to form a fact-based theory, he is not afraid to speculate based on pure reasoning, & it is kind of the irreverence that he brings to neurosciences that ultimately forms the basis of his astoundingly simple experiments.

    The cases range from well-known aberrations to bizarre ones. The part-of-the-body & the corresponding brain map that he uses to explain phantom limbs reads phenomenally simple, except that nobody thought about that before the good doctor. You read about the left hand trying to strangulate oneself & the right hand coming to the rescue. You read about folks who have no recognition of the left side of their bodies & their worlds, about those that live in stunning denial of their paralyzed limbs, about memories that last a few minutes, about creating different memory objects for the same person, about visions of God, & laughter that kills.

    If you're interested in neurosciences, you should definitely put this one on your list.

    Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind

    ...more info
  • Interesting if you're interested...
    So do you want to understand more about the inner workings of the human brain? Are you interested in science in general? V.S. Ramachandran provides and enthralling look at the human mind and the uncharted territories ahead for understanding how it works. Much in the spirit of "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat" by Oliver Sacks, this makes the case that there are volumes still to discover in the field of neurology. I found myself referencing and quoting this book repeatedly,I couldn't put it down...I even brought the book in when I was getting a hair cut and convinced my hairdresser to buy the book! If you want to discover deeper knowledge, "Rama" gives extensive footnotes with further details....more info
  • Mind blowing intro to the workings of the human brain
    I rate Phantoms in the Brain as one of the best works of nonfiction ever written. It stays true to the author's intent on making the book accessible to lay people and brain surgeons/shrinks alike. Though he humbly compares it to Darwin's Origin of Species only in terms of style, I believe Dr.Ramachandran will be no less important in terms of his contribution to the general public's understanding of the subject. It's an amazing read and makes us take a second look at all percieved anamolies we encounter....more info
  • Readable, Informative, Interactive Neurology
    Written in a neo-Sack's style, Phantoms in the Brain offers interactive exercises and clarity of neurological phenomena of interest to all laymen facinated by the multitude of "brain anomalies" and functions - including "tests" for yourself....more info
  • Experimental Philosophy!
    I just had the rare pleasure of taking a course by 'Rama' at UCSD--Cognitive Neuropsychology. It was a small seminar and one was able to ask questions directly to this quick-witted man. One of the texts of this course, Phantoms in the Brain, provides a range of stimulating ideas. It is the third time I've read it but reading it in this context and having the ability to question the author directly provided a fresh new experience.

    The book is accessible to anyone and will instill a fondness for this all-important field. Ramachandran's communication skills are superb, he can distill so much fascinating detail and controversy into a few examples and metaphors. This is a rare and wonderful treat; scientists at his level of research are usually so hopelessly mired in the details of neuroscience that they fail to convey what this field means to the rest of us--and it means everything!

    People will look back at this burgeoning age of neuroscientific research and marvel at the fortune we had to be part of it, for now we are undergoing a philosophical crisis and turning point of the highest order. Our very conception of human existence is slowly turning right under our feet, and for the first time in two thousand years!

    Scientists like Ramachandran are on the front lines of this revolutionary war helping to further our ideas about ourselves and make sense of all this bewildering complexity. In particular, it is his love for the fundamental issues of philosophy and psychology that make his work so exciting. He asks the questions that everyone else is afraid to bring up and even formulates some answers.

    Certainly the most intriguing aspect of this book is Ramachandran's discovery of the denial mechanisms that can come out 'full-blown' in people with bizarre neurological conditions. Through this strange new lens he is confirming Freud's genius. Freud's classic description of denial mechanisms is finding empirical support--and in this age of Freud bashing. Surely many of the man's ideas were inept but many more were beyond brilliant. The mechanisms of psychological denial, in particular, teach us a great deal about who we are and how our minds work.

    Phantoms in the Brain will reveal how 'haunted' our personalities truly are....more info
  • Good, not really deep nor unified.
    This is a good popular neurology book, that much is true. But it is not unifed, and it is not very deep. What I mean is that the authors do not present a clear theory of brain function, nor a clear way to bridge the gap of phenomenology and neurology. It also does not talk of very important issues, and concentrates on those in which Ramachandran has worked. This is not necessarlily bad. But truly, you do not learn much about consciousness by reading this book. What you do learn are disconnected neurology facts, theories and cases.

    By far the best and more original of the explanations given are those concerned with visual illusions and the phantom-limb phenomenon. Taking the idea that there is a body-matrix genetically mapped in the brain, Ramachandran explains phantom limb pain in a simple and plausible way. The map of the lost limb is taken over by adjacent maps (brain plasticity) and when someone stimulates the thing that is mapped in the second map, there is feeling in the missing limb. In the hand case, it turns out the face is mapped right next to it, in the brain. Ramachandran found that by stimulating the face, he could arouse phantom limb feelings in his patients. HIs experiments with the mirror-box are also really interesting.

    Ramachandran also explains how the brain "fills-in" information, like in tha case of the blindspot. He also explains many visual illusions. The rest of the book reads like a case study of different sindromes, like Capgras, Neglect,Propagnosia among others. For example Ramachandran describes patients that see cartoons in little soctomas in their blind fields, or people who claim their relatives are not "the originals". So at the end there is a lot of field discussed, but no semming unification or a grander theory. Ramachandran also touches in controversial issues like "the god part od the brain", presumably in the limbic or temporal regions.

    I enjoyed the book, and it was a good read. It is a good overview of some neuropsychology, and it is a fast and easy read. But it is not very original, nor speculative....more info

  • Fascinating!
    As a great fan of Oliver Sack's similar books, I was fascinated and delighted to read "Phantoms in the Brain". Ramachandran is profoundly philosophical in his approach to mind/brain questions, rigorously empirical in his quest for answers, and tremendously skilled at conveying the breadth and depth of his work, and others', to an interested lay readership. PiB is popular science writing of the first order. In the introduction to PiB, Ramachandran remarks that one of the reasons he decided to write this book was because he felt a sense of responsibility to the taxpayers who ulitmately underwrite his research. Acting on this sense, Ramachandran has, in my view, emerged as one of the great popularizer's of science. In PiB (and elsewhere), he has given the public a deep and rigorous account of the workings of the human mind, to the extent (limited, as Ramachandran himself acknowledges) that they are currently understood, given his readers an enormous amount to ponder, and encouraged future researchers to join the fray. I hope other scientists, across the disciplinary spectrum, follow Ramachandran's lead. (Many, of course, have. How exciting it will be when so many more do too.) READ PiB!! And recommend it far and wide. I know I will. ...more info
  • Ramachandran: the optimist
    This book has an apparent modest sub-title: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind. Actually, it seems that the main aim of author is to uncover the way the brain produces a mind. Since all mental phenomena are biological phenomena, one can say that Ramachadran defends a kind of biological naturalism about the mind-body problem. All mental phenomena are in deed biological phenomena. Even when the Ramachandran is critical about evolutionary psychologists, he accepts that our brains are composed of relatively independent modules which were built by the blind hand of evolution. The same way, Ramachandran is sometimes critical about philosophical theories about the mind, but one can conclude that is deeply interested in philosophical ideas and he likes to speculated about it. Ramachandran is not one of those brain scientists that like to use sophisticated instruments to run their experiments. Simple, but intelligent, experiments are the core of this book. Presenting uncommon cases of brain lesions, the author goes one showing that those strange cases (persons with amputated limbs, persons who suffer from Capgra's syndrome, persons who feel deep religious experiences, ...) are logical consequences of the fact that the "self" is an illusion produce by our brains.
    This is a splendid book to read. If you have some scientific and philosophical culture it is no difficult to understand the main thesis of the book. Perhaps Sandra Blakeslee gave a good help to the clarity of the book. A final word for Ramachandran's humor: clever and informative.
    The optimism of Ramachandran must be balanced with a pessimist position like the one advanced by The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World.
    ...more info
  • Too much meaningless ramble and heady jargon!
    The author of this book has an almost palpable arrogance throughout the text. One feels that he is rambling endlessly about his own unique findings! He takes the most amazing part of the human body and boils it down to a few inconclusive ideas. I felt that he minimalized the grand splendour of the human psyche by attaching an obvious (at least to him) physical cause and effect for everything that happens to us. Sorry, Mr. Ramachandran but the brain, nor life for that matter is so easily summarized. Oh how wonderful it would be if it were!...more info
  • a really interesting look into the human mind
    I am using this book for a Neuroscience course, but anyone that is interested in how our brains work will enjoy this book. Ramachandran writes in a very friendly easy, interesting style. He uses a combination of science, detective work,humor and spirituality. The only "textbook" I can curl-up on the sofa and enjoy....more info
  • Ramachandran's "Phantoms"
    If you have read books by Oliver Sacks, M.D. (e.g., The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), this book is in the same genre and is equally interesting and worthwhile. If you haven't--both Sacks and this author are neurologists who do the rest of us a considerable and fascinating favor by telling us about their patients. (Also, maybe you saw the movie, Awakenings, that starred Robin Williams as Sacks, and Robert DeNiro as one of his patients)

    Both Sacks and Ramachandran arrange their patient stories under topical headings intended to elucidate the way the brain and body (especially the senses) work together, and also the nature of human personality and even consciousness itself. Ramachandran writes with great clarity, kindness and humor, and his origins in India and Hinduism provide a gently-presented, less-western point of view.

    His book also contains some simple but amazing mind-body experiments you can do on yourself and with friends (really). In one, you will become convinced that the top of the desk in front of you is part of your body, since you will feel it when another person touches the desk. Those of you interested in religion will find the chapter "God and Limbic System" especially fascinating. And no, the purpose of his chapter is not to denigrate or analyze away religious experience, but to better understand it, and what it means to be human....more info

  • An Especially Good Intro to the Brain and its Quirks
    I bought this book not long after my father was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme. Like most people, I had no idea what a brain tumor really is and especially what a GBM IV is. To this day I wish I had never learned that term.

    But this book was a great help to me as I tried to learn more about the brain's structure and how it works. This is an easy to read book with some very helpful illustrations. It demonstrates the brain's functions by showing its quirks. It is well written and easy (and surprisingly FUN) to read.

    There is also a helpful bibliography and suggested reading list at the end of the book for those who wish to delve more deeply into the subject. But it is important to know that you don't need any background at all in the brain to enjoy this book.

    I had no understanding of brain structure beyond what the doctors told me in describing the locations of my father's tumor. This book helped me understand the changes in my fathers abilities and behavior as the tumor destroyed different portions of his brain until it finally ended his life.

    Honestly, this is a very good book and I think you will get a great deal from it....more info

  • A must-have
    I bought this when it was "on-hold" at our library. I was not disappointed. Besides the insights one gets from the case studies AND carefully designed experiments and easy to do demonstrations, the anecdotes and literary quality of the text make it very engaging. The text is not interrupted with needless references and the very susbtantial endnotes provide a treasure of knowledge and wisdom for the technically inclined. Its also a very nice case study on how interesting and impactful science can be done....more info


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