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

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Overview

"A profound intriguing and compelling guide to the intricacies of the human brain." —Oliver Sacks
In this landmark work, V. S. Ramachandran investigates strange, unforgettable cases—from patients who believe they are dead to sufferers of phantom limb syndrome. With a storyteller’s eye for compelling case studies and a researcher’s flair for new approaches to age-old questions, Ramachandran tackles the most exciting and controversial topics in brain science, including language, creativity, and consciousness.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Richard Dawkins calls V.S. Ramachandran "the Marco Polo of neuroscience"; another reviewer calls him "the foremost pioneer—the Galileo—of neurocognition." Such ethereal praise finds full justification in this new book, which has been described as "a veritable Voyage of the Beagle through the terrain of brain science and psychology." Ramachandran's talents as a researcher, a theorist, and a storyteller braid gracefully together in this exploration of how our brains make us distinctly human. As readable as it is profound, The Tell-Tale Brain qualifies as the best road map yet to where we're going in neuroscience.

Elizabeth Floyd Mair - Times Union
“Remarkably clear and engaging.”
Eva Emerson - Science News
“[Ramachandran] skillfully walks the line between intriguing storytelling and detailed science in these readable tales of unusual patients.”
Frank Bures - Scientific American Mind
“Provocative . . . an entertaining read.”
Anthony Gottlieb - New York Times Book Review
“[Ramachandran] has done as much as anyone to reveal the workings of the mind through the malfunctions of the brain.”
Times Union
Remarkably clear and engaging.— Elizabeth Floyd Mair
Science News
[Ramachandran] skillfully walks the line between intriguing storytelling and detailed science in these readable tales of unusual patients.— Eva Emerson
Scientific American Mind
Provocative . . . an entertaining read.— Frank Bures
New York Times Book Review
[Ramachandran] has done as much as anyone to reveal the workings of the mind through the malfunctions of the brain.— Anthony Gottlieb
Publishers Weekly
Ramachandran (A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness), director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at UCSD, explores why humans, who are "anatomically, neurologically and genetically, physiologically apes," are not "merely" apes. While animals can communicate with sound and gesture, and chimpanzees can even use words to express immediate needs, humans have developed the ability to speak in structurally complex sentences, and often speak in metaphor. Ramachandran speculates that, as we can map another’s actions and intuit their thoughts, we also map our own sensory apparatus, perceiving our surroundings—and perceiving ourselves perceiving our surroundings. We imagine the future and speculate about the past and seek to understand our place in the universe, laying the foundation for our the sense of free will; we not only envisage future actions, but are aware of their potential consequences and the responsibility for our choices. Richard Dawkins has called Ramachandran "the Marco Polo of neuroscience," and with good reason. He offers a fascinating explanation of cutting-edge-neurological research that deepens our understanding of the relationship between the perceptions of the mind and the workings of the brain. (Jan.)
Booklist
“Starred Review. A physician (like Oliver Sacks, a neurologist) as well as a researcher, Ramachandran uses his neurology patients’ predicaments to inspire inquiries into how we see and know, the origins of language, the mental basis of civilization, how we conceive of and assess art, and how the self is constructed. Always careful to point out when he is speculating rather than announcing research findings, he is also prompt to emphasize why his speculations, or theories, are not just of the armchair variety but can be put to the test because of what neuroscience has already discovered about the active structures of the human brain.”
From the Publisher
"Ramachandran produces an exhilarating and at times funny text that invites discussion and experimentation." —-Kirkus
Nicholas Humphrey
“Ramachandran has written an astonishing book. His humanity, humor and scientific genius inform every passage. The Tell-Tale Brain is a veritable Voyage of the Beagle through the terrain of brain science and psychology.”
Allan Snyder
“A masterpiece. The best of its kind and beautifully crafted. Alluring story telling, building to a penetrating understanding of what it is to be uniquely human. Ramachandran is the foremost pioneer—the Galileo—of neurocognition.”
Oliver Sacks
“No one is better than V. S. Ramachandran at combining minute, careful observation with ingenious experiments and bold, adventurous theorizing. The Tell-Tale Brain is Ramachandran at his best, a profoundly intriguing and compelling guide to the intricacies of the human brain.”
Norman Doidge
“Ramachandran is the modern wizard of neuroscience. In The Tell-Tale Brain, we see the genius at work, tackling extraordinary cases, many of which mark turning points in neuroscientific knowledge. We see him hypothesizing, experimenting, failing, having epiphanies, experimenting, succeeding. In this utterly entertaining account, we see how these fascinating cases fit together, and how he uses them to explain, from a Darwinian point of view, how our brains, though evolved from those of other animals, become neurologically distinct and fundamentally human.”
Kirkus Reviews

Ramachandran (Psychology and Neurosciences/Univ. of California, San Diego; A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness, 2005, etc.) sets his sights on explaining the neuroscience that underlies characteristics he considers unique to humans beings.

The author suggests that some 150,000 years ago, hominid brains underwent a "phase transition" (like water becoming ice), so that some brain centers expanded and developed new functions, leading to language, aesthetics, consciousness and self-awareness. Like Oliver Sacks, Ramachandran finds illumination in the analysis of patients with anomalous syndromes. Thus he begins with studies of phantom limbs and synesthesia, most commonly manifest as the condition in which individuals see specific colors associated with numbers or musical notes. The roster of syndromes grows to include language and memory disorders, cases in which a stroke patient denies the existence of a paralyzed limb, a patient recognizes his mother's face but says she is an impostor, or a patient who believes himself dead. Ramachandran's argues that the lesions in such patients disrupt specific sites in multi-branching pathways that create mismatches between sensory and motor areas, or between emotional and perceptual areas. In turn, the brain adapts, often making matters worse. Early on, the author introduces mirror neurons, which are abundant in human brains. These are cells that mimic the actions of another person as you watch, but are inhibited from executing the action. They are considered the source of empathy or "theory of mind" by which humans can read other's intentions. Ramachandran invokes mirror neurons as essential for social learning, language and cultural transmission. For the most part, the author argues convincingly, except where he defines aesthetic principles, which seem no more than a rehash of old Gestalt ideas. Nor is it certain that all the traits he discusses are unique to humans.

Despite some minor flaws, Ramachandran produces an exhilarating and at times funny text that invites discussion and experimentation.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393340624
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/23/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 186,241
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

V. S. Ramachandran is the director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and a Distinguished Professor with the Psychology Department and Neurosciences Program at the University of California, San Diego. He lives in Del Mar, California.

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Table of Contents

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xxiii

Introduction No Mere Ape 3

Chapter 1 Phantom Limbs and Plastic Brains 24

Chapter 2 Seeing and Knowing 41

Chapter 3 Loud Colors and Hot Babes: Synesthesia 75

Chapter 4 The Neurons that Shaped Civilization 117

Chapter 5 Where is Steven? The Riddle of Autism 136

Chapter 6 The Power of Babble: The Evolution of Language 153

Chapter 7 Beauty and the Brain: The Emergence of Aesthetics 192

Chapter 8 The Artful Brain: Universal Laws 218

Chapter 9 An Ape With a Soul: How Introspection Evolved 245

Epilogue 289

Glossary 294

Notes 306

Bibliography 327

Illustration Credits 340

Index 342

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 24 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    As good as Phantoms in the Brain.

    I have not finished reading this book, but at the 75% moment I can report that if you liked "Phantoms in the Brain", you will like this book. If you are a professional philosopher, you will feel that Ramachandran is encroaching on your field. Too bad for you, and great for the rest of us. At least his propositions may be testable.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2013

    Quite an Ego

    I have to read this book for my philosophy and neuroscience class, and I am thoroughly disappointed. Ramachandran spends half of each chapter either repeating what he's already said, complimenting himself on his accomplishments, and going off on tangents. The "stories" are interesting but can be found in much more comprehensive and well-written books. I would not recommend.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 27, 2012

    great

    I read as much as I can about the brain and Ramachandran's books are among my favorites.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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