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

By V. S. Ramachandran

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Having read and enjoyed several works by Oliver Sacks, I was eager to read this book. I did enjoy parts, especially the chapters concerning autism. However, I finally became so tired of the author's telling us how brilliant he is, I gave up about two thirds through the book. It's quite rare for me to give up on a book. Perhaps I can finish it later, when my egotism alarm has quieted a bit!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I really loved it. This book is exactly what I was looking for. But to have it written by a neurologist was a godsend. I was trying to get a perspective of the human life from the physical reality of time and space. The only connection between that reality and the physical human body I discovered is the human brain. Hence to get into the brain was inevitable. With an engineering degree in Electronics and Information Technology, to do a neuroscientist's job was an upstream battle. This book gave all the information that I needed.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Expanding on his prior success with patient who suffered the loss of limbs, Ramachandran engages in highly speculative flights of fantasy as to the origins of language and aesthetics. I wish he had remained more grounded in his own experimental work.
Man Who MIstook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks (2011-06-01) :: The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and other Clinical Tales by Oliver W. Sacks (1987-01-03) :: Revised and Expanded Edition - Tales of Music and the Brain :: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind - Phantoms in the Brain :: The Mind's Eye
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I enjoyed the content and the clarity in presentation. He seems to me the best neurologist who has learnt the function of the brain to a very great extent. I like the way he says that "this may be the reason" - Shelton
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
printable tire
Gee, one wouldn't think that a neuroscientist as respected as Ramachandran would delude himself with nonsensical ideas about how special and awesome humans are. The vast majority of people are as dull-witted as cattle. The fact that there are a few extraordinary individuals such as the author himself doesn't make the species exceptional. In fact, we have absolutely no idea how any other species takes in its environment or views its own existence.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
The author uses a range of case studies to tell a tale of neurological anatomy sometimes with little experimental support. He adds to this this evolutionary explanation with no support since this is not represented in the fossil record. He has not kept up with science of this century since the tree of genetic change is sometimes stronger than the fossil record. The author has not kept up with epigenetics and how important that is to plasticity. An Indian of origin who appears to not believe in mediation or altered states of consciousness. He leaves out a whole range of important mental disorders like personality disorders, anxiety disorders, PTSD, etc. He does not come close to explaining human consciousness only to explaining the neurological disorders he has encountered.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I am currently through 40% of this awesome work, and can't stop reading it. Dr. Ramachandra is humorous, and informative without being very technical. He explains the working of the human brain in terms that an undergraduate truly appreciates, and does so in a manner that doesn't leave you feeling like you brain isn't capable of understanding this complex subject. I recommend that this is read by everyone interested in the behaviorial, and mental aspects that make us uniquely human.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
donna montgomery
While I have read all of the authors previous efforts, this strikes me as the weakest. The preliminary introduction to the actual "guts" of the book take longer to read than the new information. He is not the "new" Oliver Sachs by any means. I will not buy any more.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
mindi scott
V.S. Ramachandran is a genius, a modern wizard of neuroscience, the foremost pioneer - the Galileo - of neurocognition. How do I know this? Well, it's not just because it says so on the back cover. No, I have an even more reliable source - Ramachandran himself! This is an interesting book and Ramachandran really is quite a clever fellow. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to realize that his cleverness is readily apparent and not something of which the reader needs to be continuously reminded. Known for gleaning important new insights from simple experiments and ideas, he often leaves the impression that his methods are sometimes a bit too simple. For example, he describes a "three boxes experiment" and speculates freely and wildly about how this experiment will help explain the evolution of language. He leaves us hanging by saying mysteriously: "The three boxes experiment has not been done yet." Well... why the hell not? We're not talking Einstein here, with predictions that had to wait until technology had sufficiently advanced to be checked. No, we're talking about watching how people stack three boxes in order to reach a high-hanging reward. One might expect "a latter-day Marco Polo" such as Ramachandran to be getting the job done in the lab, but he seems content to toss ideas into the air and wait for others to actually perform the experiments, at which point he'll be poised and ready to swoop in to take his fair share of the credit. In this same chapter, he tells how a postdoc and he suggested that apraxia is a disorder related to mirror neurons. The next sentence reads: "Paul and I opened a bottle to celebrate having clinched the diagnosis." Huh?? Surely - hopefully? - there was quite a bit of hard work between the hypothesis and "clinching the diagnosis" but he doesn't bother telling the story.

Fortunately, it's fairly easy to navigate around the ego eruptions and bad jokes to enjoy Ramachandran's clear and insightful writing. There's lots of positive things to say about this book, as other reviewers have noted. Bouba kiki!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
V.S. Ramachandran is a genius, a modern wizard of neuroscience, the foremost pioneer - the Galileo - of neurocognition. How do I know this? Well, it's not just because it says so on the back cover. No, I have an even more reliable source - Ramachandran himself! This is an interesting book and Ramachandran really is quite a clever fellow. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to realize that his cleverness is readily apparent and not something of which the reader needs to be continuously reminded. Known for gleaning important new insights from simple experiments and ideas, he often leaves the impression that his methods are sometimes a bit too simple. For example, he describes a "three boxes experiment" and speculates freely and wildly about how this experiment will help explain the evolution of language. He leaves us hanging by saying mysteriously: "The three boxes experiment has not been done yet." Well... why the hell not? We're not talking Einstein here, with predictions that had to wait until technology had sufficiently advanced to be checked. No, we're talking about watching how people stack three boxes in order to reach a high-hanging reward. One might expect "a latter-day Marco Polo" such as Ramachandran to be getting the job done in the lab, but he seems content to toss ideas into the air and wait for others to actually perform the experiments, at which point he'll be poised and ready to swoop in to take his fair share of the credit. In this same chapter, he tells how a postdoc and he suggested that apraxia is a disorder related to mirror neurons. The next sentence reads: "Paul and I opened a bottle to celebrate having clinched the diagnosis." Huh?? Surely - hopefully? - there was quite a bit of hard work between the hypothesis and "clinching the diagnosis" but he doesn't bother telling the story.

Fortunately, it's fairly easy to navigate around the ego eruptions and bad jokes to enjoy Ramachandran's clear and insightful writing. There's lots of positive things to say about this book, as other reviewers have noted. Bouba kiki!
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
There are many things that bothered me about this book. A couple of things that are easy to point out here are the author's relentless attempts to be humorous, his constant reminders that "humans are special" (like I worry about it), and his lightly filtered narcissism - just to name a few of the grating qualities of his style. This wouldn't bother me so much if his treatment of his subject wasn't so superficial and untrusworthy (e.g. he often refers to "experimental verification" without saying what the verification is). You eventually get the sense that he is willing to say anything to make a point. Often he is just illogical. Other times he leaves his area of expertise (which is fine) just to give a superfical and/or incoherent treatment (not fine) of some other subject. I'd guess that many sections of the book were written late at night, whenever he could find time. I think V.S.'s earlier work was brilliant. Apparently, something was lost.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
judy fillmore
A well written and very readable book by the "Master" of neuro-science. However there is a lot of repetition of material previously published by the Author which detracts from its overall attraction. Nevertheless recommended reading - with patience because old material does get some up dating.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
The Tell-Tale Brain is written by neurologist by the name of V.S Ramachandran. He has written many other books in behavioral neurology and psychophysics. He has received an award for his contributions in neuroscience from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Science. Along with his awards, he is currently a professor at the University of California, where he teaches under the department of psychology and neuroscience. He persistently expresses how unique and special the human brain is. Having read the book, I agree with the author and found that this book opened my mind to topics I had never heard of before. This book was informational and factual, those two go hand in hand very well in this book. It challenged me intellectually and that is an aspect I appreciated very much.
What makes this book so enticing and interesting? The way he presents complex ideas and research in a manner than be understood with a general background understanding of neuroscience. In this book, he delves deep into many cases of physical and mental disorders. Examples of these disorders are phantom limb, brocha’s aphasia, autism, synesthesia, agnosia, etc. Ramachandran draws in from his previous books and research he has done in the past. So, this book does not contain all new material. Before going into his research, he begins by briefly explaining how different we are from apes. The author found the comparison to apes, not justifiable. Although we share many similar qualities, humans have the knowledge to do more with our resources. He uses this as the basis as to why humans are so unique and how our brain is so complex.
I went into this book with a basic understanding of Neuroscience. I have taken a class on the subject and that was as far as my knowledge went. With that said, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the work that was written. As mentioned previously, this book is written at a level where basic knowledge on neuroscience is required. However, not completely, he does briefly explain neurons in the introduction of the book. So, I do not think it will be like rocket science to follow along. He breaks it down, explaining axons, dendrites and synapses. It is somewhat easy to read and follow along with. He provides pictures and drawing so that the reader an example of what he is talking about. Some of these pictures also serve the purpose of interpretation. Ramachandran always would say how unique and special humans are. So, to prove that, he would show readers pictures and these pictures make a reader think. They will have different ways of being perceived by each reader. You think you know what you’re looking at, until he explains an alternative way to look at it. It really does show how brains work different without having to use long, scholarly words. The proof was in the picture itself. The author also provides actual conversations he has had with patients. It is easy to follow through and I appreciated that. It added a personal feel to the book because you were let in on an actual conversation he has had with someone.
Right from the start of the first chapter, he delves into a fascinating case. In one of his research topics, he discusses the “phantom limbs.” This phenomenon was described as someone who was amputated, but could still feel sensations where that limb would have been. The patient could feel when someone caressed their missing part of their arm, and as well when done to another person. I️ found this chapter to be truly fascinating. No nerves are located there anymore, yet the brain can make you feel as if it were there. In addition to this, the patient could feel for others just by seeing an action being performed on someone else. I️ never knew such things like could happen. I️ learned that there are many cases where the brain functions completely different from person to person. There are people who see auras of colors when they see numbers or letters. That sounds like something I️ would see in a movie or fictional book, but it is real. There is always new research coming out. I️ think the author makes a great point at that when presenting his researching. At the end of the chapters, he includes noes, glossary, and bibliography. The glossary is a helpful section in the book for anyone confused on the terms and words he is writing about.
Overall, I️ was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the authors writing and research. He provides intellectual information with explanations to follow them right after. At times, he does not have a solid reason or explanation for his personal case studies and can move on from it. I also got the impression that this author thought very highly of himself and his work. It could be possible that this causes him to move on from topics quickly because he did not want to seem unintelligent. If anyone who is interested in how the brain is so complex and unique, it would be a great read for them. I recommend this book to even anyone who might not even agree with V.S Ramachandran. This book will definitely challenge your thoughts and what you thought you knew. The Tell-Tale Brain was an amazing read for me and I gained a new insight into the complex human brain. I learned that there is so much more to human brain and that there is plentiful of research left to be done. The book is mildly easy to follow along. The only critiqued I have is that, V.S Ramachandran offers his own sense of humor scattered around the book. I do not think this a bad quality of the book, completely. I reckon that some readers will enjoy the humor made by the neorologist. At times, the jokes made could be deleted all together.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
jennifer stebel limke
Meh. Not much here that one couldn’t find in a college general psych textbook. The rest is just the author musing on completely unsubstantiated ideas. I assume he had no current research to write about at the time.

Other reviewers nail problems the editor should have caught: cringeworthy junior highschool boy “jokes” about women, unnecessary belittlement of others, diagnosing mental disorders in those who do not share the same political party as the author, egotistical statements, etc.

None of those characteristics belong in a book people purchase for knowledge from a supposed expert.

At one point, he author got sidetracked describing one of his female students and the excerpt makes him appear to be “that” lecherous old man no one wants to get stuck standing next to at a party. How did that get in the manuscript?!?!

Humor is fine, but not when it is at the expense of another person. Humor that depends on the belittlement of others (surfers being a main target of his) doesn’t require the author to be clever or witty, just mean.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
elizzy b
A brain injury patient simultaneously becomes demented and develops a previously unwitnessed artistic talent. Another patient’s brain lights up identically when seeing another person being poked as it does when he, himself, is prodded. An amputee brushed on a specific area of the cheek has a sensation in a specific area of the lost limb—i.e. phantom limb sensations can be mapped to points on the face. A stroke victim develops “metaphor blindness,” and suddenly “the 800 pound gorilla” becomes an actual gorilla. A test subject’s right angular gyrus has an electrical charge delivered to it through an electrode and the person has an instantaneous out-of-body experience. There are temporal lobe epilepsy patients who literally feel one with other people—or, in some cases, the natural world in general. These are just a few of the fascinating cases that Dr. Ramachandran presents in “The Tell-Tale Brain.” Many of these phenomena would have once been attributed to purely psychological or spiritual causes, but now their biological origins in the brain are being revealed.

Dr. Ramachandran is a neuroscientist whose claim to fame is making a noteworthy contribution to our understanding of the brain using mostly low-tech and non-invasive experiments with subjects who have brain abnormalities or injuries. Before there was EEG (electroencephalogram) and fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machines, much of what scientists learned about the brain came from determining what capabilities were lost (or, occasionally, gained) by patients who had specific brain damage. In this way, we gained a great deal of insight into what areas of the brain are responsible for what tasks and we’ve learned that many aspects of the mind that were largely thought to be beyond biology are—in fact--not. It’s fascinating to see what bizarre effects can result from brain damage or abnormalities, from people who think they are dead to others who want to have a limb amputated because it doesn’t feel like it belongs to them to yet others who think their loved ones are imposters.

The central question addressed by this book is best summarized by a quote from the book’s introduction: “Are we merely chimps with a software upgrade?” Ramachandran proposes that any answer to this question that can be scientifically investigated must reside in the brain. Most of our organs and our general structure are not that different from those of our primate brethren. But our brains are infinitely more capable than those of other species. In responding to the question, Ramachandran considers the brain’s role in topics like language, aesthetics, and belief that are the sole domain of Homo sapiens. One of the most interesting discussions is how our brains fill in the blanks and a give meaning to what we see, such that we sometimes find signs in random data streams. The final chapter deals with introspection and how we come to define ourselves by what we think and what we feel and here Ramachandran gets into some of the most fascinating conditions mentioned in the book, such as Cotard Syndrome in which subjects firmly believe that they don’t exist.

There are a few topics that he delves into in particularly deep detail. One of these topics is that of mirror neurons. These neurons are integral to our relationships with others and are essential to our ability to learn. They fire in mimicry of movement (e.g. facial expressions) we see others perform. The author also uses his work with phantom limbs and synesthesia to illuminate the workings of the brain. Phantom limbs occur when an amputee can still feel sensations in the amputated limb. While phantom limbs were at one time believed to be residue of the soul or the like, studies have offered insights into its origins in the brain. Synesthesia is when the brain is mis-wired such that there is a blending of the senses. As an example, a person might see a different color associated with each musical note or with each number. Synesthesia was once considered a delusion and people were institutionalized for this cross-wiring of the brain. Autism is also addressed in a chapter, and-in particular—the theory that this affliction may be linked to the mirror neurons.

I found this book to be fascinating and insightful. While it delves into our tremendously complex brains, it does so in a readable and comprehensible manner. The fact that Ramachandran’s focus is largely on low-tech and relatively simple experiments means that one can readily understand them in a manner that one might not with studies based on fMRIs or EEGs.

I’d recommend this book for anyone interested in the magnificent human brain.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
michelle s
the store Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human (Hardcover)
Having recently finished reading The Tell-Tale Brain, I wanted to pass along my basic impression for other potential readers. I found it to be interesting, particularly in the first few chapters. Unfortunately, it then somewhat fell apart and appeared to be more of a stream of consciousness of old material presented by the author to fill pages for his publisher and freely speculate about what might be known someday about the brain, but is not known now. My critique is generally consistent with the more negative reviews that I read about the book before buying it. The author focused on areas of interest to him, such as art, and gave a good deal of his own personal perspectives and speculations; versus scientific analysis and professional understanding. As another reviewer noted, his political characterizations of Bush, Cheney, Nixon and Conservatives are not worthy of an author claiming to approach topics with scientific objectivity. These are among a number of offbeat comments that simply do not belong in this kind of book. The book's editor should have saved the author from this pointless distraction and intellectual embarrassment. The author's failed effort to be humorous and hip also cast a negative pale on the credibility of his serious assertions that were on point. Overall his personal hubris and intellectual blind spots bled into other aspects of the book, creating a disappointing reading experience. It's interesting that this book and the author are characterized as the better of what's available on the topic, which is unfortunate.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
jan rayl
I have read Phantoms in the Brain, which I think is one of the best popular books on neuroscience: informative, well-written,cutting edge research. All you want in one sigle package. I eagerly awaited for Ramachandran's next book, but I have to say that The Tell-Tale Brain is quite disappointing. I am still half way through and wonder: why did he write another version of his previous book? Does he want to place some of his (controversial) ideas in the popular mind?

I will finish reading it for sure, since I already bought it. But if you want to save some money, buy Phantoms in the Brain.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
In _The Tell-Tale Brain_, V.S. Ramachandran impressively tells the tale of the evolution of the human brain. In his own words:
"This book is my modest contribution to the grand attempt to crack the code of the human brain, with its myriad connections and modules that make it infinitely more enigmatic that any Enigma machine." (p. xv)

In his attempt to illuminate the brain-mind-body connection, he tackles such mind-boggling questions as:
*How do we perceive the world?
*What is the so-called mind-body connection?
*What determines your sexual identity?
*What is consciousness?
*What goes wrong in autism?
*How can we account for all of those mysterious faculties that are so quintessentially human, such as art, language, metaphor, creativity, self-awareness, and even religious sensibilities? (p. xi)

A common thread to the answers to all of these question is the premise that many of the traits that make us uniquely human--and not "just" another series of primate--have evolved through the novel development of brain structures that had previously evolved for other functions. Key players shaping the course of our evolutionary and cultural development are plasticity and mirror neurons, which have allowed for the brain of an ape "to evolve such a godlike array of mental abilities." (p. xi)

In the first part of the book, Ramachandran helps us understand the unique inner workings of the "normal" brain by presenting cases of abnormal brain wiring: here, patients with phantoms limbs, synesthesia, and autism provide clues to brain plasticity, connectivity, and mirror neurons, respectively. He provides a fascinating exploration of mirror neurons--"the neurons the shaped civilization"--and illuminates how they underly many of our uniquely human abilities, including empathy and language. Next, he looks at "the artful brain" and proposes his nine laws of aesthetics: grouping, peak shift, contrast, isolation, peekaboo, abhorrence of coincidences, orderliness, symmetry, and metaphor. In the final part of the book, he tackles the nature of self-awareness, and defines the seven factors necessary for a cohesive sense of self--unity continuity, embodiment, privacy, social embedding, free will and self awareness--and explores cases of patients who have disturbances in various aspects of their sense of self.

In the process of giving us a tour of the brain, Ramachandran also provides peeks into his own thought processes. As other reviewers have noted, at times his comments can be a bit off-color and politically incorrect, and his content can be free-flowing and speculative. But, if you have an open mind and a sense of humor, these reveals can add to the richness and color of the book. He is only human after all.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ben foster
A witty brain book for the truly brain enthusiasts. If you have a casual interest in the mechanisms of the brain, you will not find this book of much interest. There are stretches every now and that require more than a passing interest to slog through. If you endure the bumpy and at times technical material, you will glean astonishing examples of peculiar brain processes observed in patients with damage to specific areas of the brain, which Dr. Ramachandran has plenty of experience with. For example, the phenomenon of blindsight was first discovered by the observance of a patient with damage to the V1 area of the visual cortex. This patient would swear up and down that she was unable to see. Yet, she could reach out and touch a spot of light on the wall in front of her in repeated experiments with uncanny accuracy. This is because her old vision pathway was still operational. There are two vision pathways to the brain; one that feeds the subconscious mind (old pathway), and one that is consciously interpreted (new pathway). This patient had sustained damaged to the conscious pathway. So while she couldn't recognize objects consciously, she would continually surprise herself with guessing the spot on the wall correctly. But of course, none of this was by coincidence.

Dr. Ramachandran explains what is currently known in neuroscience about intriguing topics such as body image, mirror neurons, language evolution, autism and a whole host of neuropsychiatric syndromes most people have never heard of. He then theorizes possible explanations and solutions to some of these maladies, but you'd have to track the transition from fact to conjecture carefully as the lines blur frequently. Dr. Ramachandran has had past success with his theories bearing fruit, so the reader needn't mind the plethora of his unproven ideas. He has paid his dues in neuroscience, and his ideas deserve careful attention. In the final chapter, there is some convergence of neuroscience and philosophy for a climactic finale of comprehensive and fascinating material.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Dr. V. S. Ramachadran, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California is a master at both understanding neuroscience and communicating it to others.

In this follow up to his earlier books Phantoms in the Brain and A Brief Tour of Consciousness, Ramachandran summarizes his previous work and builds on it.

Essentially therefore this book covers four areas all of which are very helpful in terms of understanding how your brain actually works:

1) Ramachandran discusses common mental disfunctions and how they can affect perception. Buy way of illustration his chapter on autism shows autistics can become better artists or mathematicians as a result of their illness. This section repeats material from his previous book Phantoms in the Brain but it also adds new connections to the rest of what he has to say that the information new and relevant to the larger points he makes in this book.

2) Ramachandran explores the mystery of language. In talking about where language skills actually reside in your brain he raises some interesting theories about just how language may have arisen in the first place.

3) Ramachandran discusses what he refers to as "beauty and the brain" or just where our artistic imperative comes from. This section covers much of what he discussed in his prevous book A Brief Tour of Consciousness. But again because of the way he connects this material with what he has to say in the rest of the book the information provided is made new and relevant.

4) Ramachandran explores the mystery of consciousness. In so doing he adds his thoughts to those of previous writers like Dan Dennett and Francis Crick who themselves wrote books on consciousness. However, unlike either Dennett or Crick Ramachandran can rightly claim expertise owing to the fact that he's a neuroscientist with actual experience in the field of brain science.

In each case, Ramachandran can be said to offer his own astonishing hypotheses about your brain actually works to create experience, language, art appreciation and of course mind.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
You need not be a great scientific thinker to appreciate this book, we certainly aren’t, but rather obviously one has to have a basic interest in the neuroscience of the brain and its workings to like it. Given that, however, it is a great book by the Doctor who discovered that mirrors may be used to help individuals with phantom limb syndrome. It is really quite amazing and informative and tells about how various afflictions of the brain can affect the personality and the abilities and interests of the individual concerned and about what all this tells us concerning the brain and its workings. It also explains why when one is suffering from appendicitis, one first tends to feel pain in the center of one’s body rather than on the lower right side where the appendix is located. If you wish to understand more about the brain and how our sense of self is shaped by it, this is a great book to read.

The Silver Elves
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
caroline igra
This is a book I will be recomending to my Gen Psy students who are wondering what book they might select for their book reports. The Tell-Tale Brain is informative, engaging and can be read in an afternoon and an evening.

The carefully thought-out and scientifically researched sections of this book that deal with phantom limb pain,synesthesia, and autism, were of particular interest to me. Ramachandran's theories how a lack of mirror neurons might help explain autism was especially fascinating.

As a former art historian with a long-time interest in aesthetics and how the brain perceives patterns, I was intrigued by the author's philosophizing about art, but felt this section was a little out of place. I hope Ramachandran will continue researching his theories and put out another publication on that particular topic that tells us more about what makes art "light up" our brains.

If you are a lay person interested in reading about brain science and theory, The Tell-Tale Brain is a good place to start. My next step will be ordering Ramachandran's other books!

Kim Burdick
Stanton, DE
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kanta bosniak
Deemed the "Marco Polo" of neuroscience by Richard Dawkins, V. S. Ramachandran brings his thinking and research to the general reader in The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human. If you have no background in the field of neuroscience or neuroplasticity, this is about as good a place to start as any. If you have been reading literature available for the general public in this area, the book is still very helpful. Ramachandran is a graceful and clear writer. The benefit of this book is its breadth of coverage. For example, he visits phantom limb syndrome, devotes a chapter to the relationship between seeing and knowing, and autism is addressed in a very thoughtful, generous manner. Most interesting me to personally was his discussion of aesthetics and the brain. This is an excellent book and I hope that we hear more from Ramachandran in the near future.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
With this book, V S Ramachandran has become my favorite contemporary Neuropsychology author. With cases drawn from almost all aspects of life, author has proved that he has good hold on discipline beyond his domain and is rightly placed among foremost intellectuals of our time.
The book introduces us to the complexities of human brain and its psyche with an amazing clarity. It also explain why we behave the way we behave. The book is written in the form of case studies, drawn mostly from his experience as neurosurgeon and research scholar. The book explains each major brain functions and different types of mental disorders associated with those functions. Major disorders discussed are Phantom Limbs (his major contribution to the Neurology), Autism, Synesthesia, Agnosia, Anosognosia, Autism, Capgras Syndrome, Cotard Syndrome, Alzheimer, Dementia, apraxia etc.
My favorite part of the book is concept of mirror neurons and their relationship to human consciousness and social behavior. The epilogue of book is really touching, where author describes the brain equilibrium of social conformity vis-a-vis quest for personal interest and mental disorders because of its derangement. This approach to understanding human brain will surely create new research avenue and hope to millions of patients worldwide.
Ramachandran is a firm believer of evolution and has written book in evolutionary style as well. The book explains the evolution of each major function of the brain and in the process analyzes the same from anatomical, psychological, and philosophical aspects. The vividness of his content and lucidity of his approach keeps you heads down and make reading fun. I, as a leisure reader, really like such authors who keep simplicity as their priority.
During his text, he touches some politically sensitive topics and do not hesitate in taking sides. This may raise some eyebrows about his scientific objectivity. But nevertheless, that is his style and it keeps book interesting. To me, this book is a great read and I will highly recommend it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
shalyn swanson

"This book is a distillation of a large chunk of my life's work, which has been to unravel--strand by strand--the mysterious connections between brain, mind, and body...In this book, I hope I can convey at least some of the wonder and awe that my colleagues and I have felt over the years as we patiently peeled back the layers of the mind-brain mystery."

The above comes from the preface of this interesting book by V.S. Ramachandran. He is the director of the Center for Brain & Cognition and Distinguished Professor with the Psychology Department and Neurosciences Program at the University of California, San Diego. (Cognitive neuroscience is the discipline that attempts to provide neurological explanations of cognition and perception.) He is also adjunct professor of biology at the Salk Institute.

This book explores, from a neurological point of view, various aspects of human perception and how they relate to aesthetics and the appreciation of art as well as the development of language.

Most importantly, this book explores how perception and the way it's processed make humans more like other animals or unique among animals. For this, the author investigates cases of patients that have had their brain systems disrupted in some way through specific disruptions such as:

(1) phantom limbs: the perceived existence of a limb through accident or amputation
(2) synaesthesia: a condition in which a person perceives something in a sense besides the sense being stimulated, such as seeing colours in numbers
(3) autism: one of a group of serious developmental problems.

In the final chapter, the author discusses seven main concepts which define the human aspect of self and how each may be disrupted by a specific neurological disorder.

This book includes several helpful illustrations and a good, essential (at least to me) glossary.

I appreciated how Ramachandran put everything into an evolutionary framework. As well, he asks questions, gives us his hypotheses and theories, and explains some of his own experiments.

Finally, in some cases, I felt Ramachandran was overstating the importance of things and made assertions that were scantily researched. One glaring example is when he states that:

"mirror neurons will do for psychology what DNA did for biology--they will provide a unifying framework and help explain a host of mental abilities that have hitherto remained mysterious and inaccessible to experiments." (Mirror neurons are nerve cells that are activated upon watching an action.)

The author, to his credit, does tell us that the significance of mirror neurons is speculative but, he does not emphasize the fact that they're very controversial as well.

In conclusion, this book should give the reader many new clues into the mysteries and remarkable abilities of the human brain!!

(first published 2011; preface; acknowledgements; introduction; 9 chapters; epilogue; main narrative 295 pages; glossary; notes; bibliography; illustration credits; index; about the author)

<<Stephen Pletko, London, Ontario, Canada>>

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
nan kirkpatrick
Most of the interesting pieces of this book is a total rehash of his Phantoms book (PB), down to the puns, jokes and quotes. Like seriously plagiarizing yourself level of copy and paste. By reusing so much good stuff from the other book, the author really highlights a certain level of intellectual poverty notwithstanding his monumental effort to look smart.

And the new stuff in the book is mostly without much supporting evidence. Considering the fascinations of PB are mainly descriptions of experiments and case studies, I would argue this book is pretty much the exact opposite of PB. So anyone who has enjoyed PB should stay clear of this one. Because believe me, this book will destroy all your admiration of Dr. Ramachandran, which admiration he rightly earned from PB.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
A tough subject for the layperson to get his/her hands around, but just when you feel the author is about to bewilder you with the science, he fascinates. No question that he is brilliant, egotistical, and dedicated to convincing the reader that he (along with an occasional colleague) is on the cutting edge, indeed sharpening that edge, of research into what happens in the brain when we think, appreciate, and create. Much of the book consists of hypotheses extrapolated from the known science, but none of it is outrageous, and I for one am glad that he tries to tackle such subjects as what is going on in the brain that permits us to recognize something as "art." Not a quick read, but for the non-scientist downright fascinating.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sean carton
A prominent leader in the field of neuroscience, V.S. Ramachandran writes a truly interesting book that audiences of all levels can enjoy. The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes us Human is chocked full of fascinating stories of Ramachandran's various patients and/or subjects with abnormal neurological conditions. Ramachandran uses these stories to explain to the reader different facets of the brain, including the how these conditions relate to various anatomical structures of their functions.

One of my favorite aspects about the book was the readability. Being such a proficient leader in the neuroscience and medical field, Ramachandran could easily write an overly technical and arduous read. That was not the case in this book. Each chapter was filled with case studies followed by a possible physiological and/or psychological mechanism that could account for the underlying condition in each of his patients. In these mechanisms, Ramachandran tends to center on the how the evolutionary development behind these mechanisms drives the development of the functions and structures involved. I was eager to read each chapter to find out what fascinating patient Ramachandran had stumbled upon next, and what sort of secrets of the brain could be revealed.

Another strength of this book is in its organization. Each of the nine topics are clearly defined and builds upon one another. The first chapter dives into the strange world of phantom limbs, a phenomenon where amputees can still "feel" their amputated limbs, as well as discusses the brain's ability to be changed. The second chapter discusses vision and perception. Ramachandran explains here that seeing with the eyes and seeing with the brain are two different things. Ramachandran describes various patient cases and three possible separate pathways that incoming visual information could take through the brain. Chapter three connects sensory and perception to a phenomenon called synthesia. Synthesia is a mixing of the senses that could cause a person to taste color, hear shapes, or even see sounds. Chapter four discuss mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are neurons that fire when an action is performed or when someone else is performing that action. In humans, mirror neurons can contribute to what makes us have empathy for others. This leads into chapter five on Autism and chapter six language. In chapter five, Ramachandran links the possibility that the mental disorder could be attributed to the dysfunctioning of the mirror neurons. Chapter six links mirror neurons to the overall development of language. Chapters seven and eight discuss the evolutionary of the concept of beauty and nine of Ramachandran's aesthetic laws. The final chapter combines many facets of the previous chapters to introduce the final thought provoking topic of self-awareness.

There was one weakness that I found with the Kindle version of this book. Often times Ramachandran would refer to a figure that was located many pages away. I found it distracting and difficult to read the information on these sections when I was constantly scrolling through the pages. One example of this was in chapter two on vision and perception. There were three or so figures used to demonstrate how optical illusions can be used to discover some hidden assumptions underlying perception. Ramachandran mentions the interactive figures were pages before they were shown in the book so that the reader was having to break their focus on the subject to find where they were located. This may be a minor problem with the Kindle version of the book, but it was an issue nonetheless.

Overall. this book was an interesting introduction into the realm of neuroscience. It was easy to read from the beginning with its casual storytelling element and should appeal to all audiences. Even someone like me who is just delving into the complex world of neuroscience. The book introduces various topics in the world of neuroscience today in terms of many personal experiences and case studies which add an enjoyable element to reading. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun and fascinating read that will challenge you to think about the complexities of the human mind and brain, and to appreciate how wonderfully unique we really are!
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
a s books
Well, I just finished this book, and to be honest I'm not a whole lot impressed. I really enjoyed chapters 1-4, and somewhat chapter 9. Chapter 5 was very interesting, but the author provides too many inconclusive answers and highly speculative hypothesis through the whole chapter (in fact, through the entire book).

Another thing I dislike was the eternal mirror-neuron argument the author relies to "explain" many neurological disorders and even the emergence of language (even introspection). Chapter 6 dealed with language. This one (along with chapters 7and 8) were the most speculative chapters of the book. Like I already noted: too many speculative hypotesis and/or highly speculative and yet very simple explanations to topics such as language emergence and evolution; the emergence of aestethics and arts; and again, too much redundant mirror-neurons argument. I even tended to get to the conclusion that almost everything was due to, or was explainable by a malfunctioning mirror neuron system!

Finally, something that somewhat pissed me off was the author's low sense of humility (at least, that's my impression). If you read this book, you will find that the author almost always talks about his (or his team) discoveries in a way that is almost grandiose-like. Another thing I somewhat didn't liked was the author's inclination for Freudian psychology (as some reviewer pointed out), and his constant failure to implement a good dose of humor. This can be harmful from a reader's stand point

In summary, read this book under your own risk.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
mary catherine
Dr. Ramachandran is an excellent neurologist who presents a fascinating study of the human brain. His explananations are quite accessible to a lay audience. I recommend the book for a deeper understanding of how the brain functions. The reason for just three stars is that I was put off by his narcissism, his ignorance of other fields once he strays outside of neurology and brain science, his puerile sense of humor, and his offensive attitude toward women. His comments about Freud and psychologists in general reveal his lack of knowlege and any true understanding of these subjects as well as an arrogant disdain which merely exposes his unmerrited attitude of arrogant superiority. His jokes at the expense of women, whom he portrays mainly as sex objects desgined to provoke arousal in men, are hard to take at times. The book could have used a good editor to filter out the author's schoolboy titillations with human sexual activity.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
sharon hardin
Vilayanur Subramanian Ramachandran, author of The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human, is a well-known neuroscientist whose work in the field of neuroscience and psychology have impacted studies on brain and behavior. Ramachandran works for the University of California in San Diego as the director of the Center for Brain and Cognition as well as neuroscience and psychology professor. His book, published in 2010, gives an insight on neuroscientist's point of view on many bothering questions that most people, not only those interested in science, might have. I really enjoyed reading this book and I give it 4 stars out of 5 for organization of topics, simplicity in explaining complex information, and ability to keep the reader interested throughout the entire book. However, there were a few things that I found rather disturbing, such as the parts that focused on what can reveal the future about the brain that is not yet discovered and the fact that the author was speculating on some topics instead of providing the scientific explanation for his perspectives on brain function.
The Tell-Tale Brain depicts interesting and complex topics in very simple way making it understandable for general audience. Each chapter focuses on the connections between the brain and behaviors associated with its malfunction. Throughout the book, author emphasizes his deep belief, that human beings are not simply animals, but we are special and unique in this world. Trying to prove his point, Ramachandran gives examples by comparing brains of animals and human beings.

The main focus in Chapter 1 is directed toward phantom limb that gives the patient a feel of sensation in the place where used to be a limb but now it is amputated. Ramachandran talks about the research that he has done on phantom limbs and gives the examples of few cases that he worked on. These examples show how human brain can gradually adapt to the new experiences that we encounter in our lives by changing the wiring in the brain that was already set up.

Further in the text, Ramachadran addresses the uniqueness of the human brain's processing of sensory information, especially visual. The author depicts concepts of Old and New Pathways, which are essential in connecting the visual and perception in order for the brain to develop, as well as adapt and give us an understanding of how we perceive something.

Next chapter is about synesthesia, which is blending of senses caused by unusual brain wiring. This involuntary mix of emotion makes synesthetes to hear colors or feel and see sounds. According to the author wires in the brain that are responsible for specific senses can cross over causing this mix.

Chapter 4 introduces us to the mirror neurons, cells in the brain that help us imitate others and seem to be helpful in creating socio-cultural behaviors of people as well as of more developed primates. Mirror neurons fire both when a person does some kind of activity, and when observes doing the same activity by another person.

In Chapter 5, the author focuses on autism and how the malfunction of the mirror neurons can lead to this disorder characterized by mental disconnection from external world. Mirror neuron activity is less visible in autistic people when they watch another person performing an action than it is in healthy people.

Evolution of language is described in Chapter 6. There are two important parts in the brain, Broca's and Wernicke's, which are associated with proper language communication. In the case of damage to either of these two parts the language communication becomes a struggle. Evolution of language is divided into three subparts that are controlled by different areas of the brain. The three subparts are lexicon, semantics, and syntax. The author admits that more research needs to be done on this topic because it still remains a mystery.

In Chapters 7 and 8, Ramachandran explains the laws of aesthetics as well as how our brain creates, perceives, and responds to art. The connection between art and science is depicted as natural among many species. For example, one of the laws described was symmetry and it is proved that people tend to rate others' attractiveness based on the symmetry of their face.

The last chapter talks about the nature of the self and ability to introspect. Once again the uniqueness of the human kind is highlighted because of our self-awareness.

This book connects to Intro to Neuroscience course not only by discussing the basic anatomy of the human brain and giving the examples of significant neurological cases, but also by exploring in depth the disorders caused by brain malfunction.

The author seems to me to be not objective in some parts of the book because he states his own opinion rather than the scientific analysis and explanation for his beliefs. It is not entirely a scientific book with strong facts. Nevertheless, it takes the reader on an interesting journey that teaches many concepts in simple and interesting ways. However, the readers need to use their critical thinking while reading and create their own idea of concepts that were not depicted as true facts, but as opinions and personal perspectives of the author.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I enjoyed this book and found it very interesting at times. In a few places it slowed down and I thought the Ramachandran drug the topic out a bit too long. However this is really a minor critique. I found the topic on the self towards the end of the book to be especially compelling.

Recommended for anyone who wants to understand the brain or unique features of the human brain.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
mista frade
Even if you have read his previous work, you will still find new and interesting information in this well-written and engaging narrative describing the latest findings in how the brain works, especially on the subject of autism. However, I only give it 4 stars because in the Kindle edition, the illustrations and figures are too small to read so I have to purchase a hard copy of the book if I want access to all the information. I don't think anyone is able to decipher text that is 1 mm high or drawings the size of a thumbnail.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
meghan robb
Whilst Ramachandran may be considered excellent in his field, I came to a dead halt with loss of credibility when I first encountered reference to Bush and Cheney sharing each other's madness (folie a deux) and to the difference between a Democrat and a Republican as being one of IQ. I would suggest that these kinds of outbursts are degrading to a scientific journal.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Anyone working in the field of education, anthropology, medicine or just interesting in understanding more about our humanity must read this book. It contains updated research on brain development and how it relates to almost any field unimaginable. It is very easy to read for the lay person (terminology is clearly explained)and keeps you hooked to the book from the first page to the last. The book sets the tome for what research on brain development may look like in the next decade and makes interesting suggestions by linking philosophy to science.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
amanda thompson
Ramachandran explains concepts very clearly ( even though it gets tedious sometimes) and amazes you most of the time with his expertise. If you are interested to know about the Human brain , its a very good read.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I got rather bored with the author's ego. I get it -- he's brilliant and anyone who differs with him is misguided or uneducated. I dislike his condescending attitude towards people who don't believe in evolution. Aside from that, it's just a dry, outdated, long-winded rehash of his previous stuff.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
chul hyun ahn
Much of the information presented in this book is either out-of-date or inaccurate. And there is a great deal of vague speculation. Ramachandran has a gift for metaphor; however he often fails to distinguish between unsupported flights of speculation and actual neuroscience.

In the first chapter he repeats claims about the "discoveries" he made in the early 1990s concerning phantom limbs. In point of fact his theories were decisively disproven by neuroscientists in the mid 1990s. It may not be an accident that he provides no notes for this chapter. Anyone who reads the published literature about phantom limbs from the 1990s would realize that Ramachandran is simply repeating incorrect theories that were abandoned fifteen years ago.

In Chapters 4 and 5 he repeats a series of speculations about mirror neurons that are almost pure science fiction. There is indeed a contentious debate about the nature and function of mirror neurons, but Ramachandran's ideas are not included in the debate because there is no research that supports them.

Unfortunately, this book is a detour away from the real discoveries in neuroscience that have taken place in the last decade.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
I have been listening to 90% of the audiobook so far and while I appreciate the degree of thought and enjoy hearing the research and theories that he does give on brain science, I unfortunately find that there is so much personal indulgence in his writing that it distracts and diminishes the potential enjoyment of this book. I almost feel that the book is as much an apologetic text for the right thinking of evolution with neurology as the subtext. Rather than presuming that the reader already knows or accepts evolution or to give a basic introduction and trust the reader to connect the dots, he hammers the same point over and over that those who disagree with the premise are to be derided. He even brings up a conversation with a medical student who expresses doubt about the evolution of earbones for the sole purpose of saying that he ignored him. How generous! He also brings up a time when he met a creationist just to mention how he refrained from saying something cutting to him. I can think of ways he could have introduced the same concepts in a more clear manner that would not have shown distain towards others and could have shortened the book itself. He also wants to make sure we are aware of the cultural treasures that are of India. Now, there is much in the history and culture of India which we in the West can benefit from knowing (that deserves a book in itself), but when the author states that he has gone too far a field in discussing in his own book, the meaning of Indian Art (as it is a book of neurology not of Indian art) it begs the question on why the paragraph is even there in the first place. It is like a trial lawyer making an objectionable statement and then withdrawing as if the jury would not remember what was said. Listening to the chapter on art, I am glad I did not start a drinking game every time he explained that the sculpture of Indian women had narrow waist and pendulous hips and breasts. Even without the benefit of the illustrations, I think that I could have kept the concept in mind after the first one or two mentions of the concept. His making political leaders pathological and celebration of his own merits further demonstrates that he has no lack of ego or need to confuse the issues with any other viewpoint than his own. The author is definitely convinced that you will find him a font of wit and truth.
I respect his accomplishments and the breadth and depth of his thoughts which is why I gave him 3 stars. I could not give him more because the indulgent writing diluted the great information and ideas which made me want to read in the first place.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
michael feeney
I was looking forward to reading Dr. Ramachandran's latest book, having enjoyed his previous ones very much. Unfortunately, there was nothing new here--experiments and findings had been described in his earlier books and his explanations for how the brain functions were superficial and a bit sloppy. He made many sexual innuendos which seemed out of place, as did his predilection for referring to Freudian theories. Overall, I had the impression that he did not put much effort into this book, distracted, perhaps, by the fruits of his own success.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
p. 42 "(This feature has been lost in human females, who have evolved to be continuously receptive sexually throughout the month -- something I have yet to observe personally.)"

p. 62 "Maybe David, like all men, had a strong sexual attractive to his mother when he was a baby..."

p. 71 "If Mr. Dobbs finds that his wife looks like a new woman every time he see her, he should find her perpetually attractive. This is a good thing -- not bad at all. We should all be so lucky!"

p. 86 "Her jeans were sliding down her hips, and I tried not to gaze directly at the tattoo on her waist. Mirabelle's eyes lit up when she saw a long, polished fossilized bone which looked a bit like a humerus [upper arm bone]. I asked her to guess what it was. She tried rib, shin bone, and thigh bone. In fact, it was the baculum (penis bone...)"

I closed the book at p.86, almost ready to vomit. I pity the women who have to tolerate being taught by such a man in order to continue along their path in science.
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