Monday, June 23, 2014

Tell tale brain - book overview

Tell tale brain

Over the recent long weekend, worked through a 2011book by V. Ramachandran called – the telltale brain: unlocking the mystery of human nature.

The book is written in a conversational style and peppered with the author’s wry humour and story telling. Some of the case studies presented are from Ramachandran’s work with patients who have had neurological trauma or illnesses. Therefore, the book mirrors some of the techniques used in other books and over viewed in previous blogs.

Tell-tale brain consists of an introduction and nine chapters. Each chapter deals with an aspect of brain function and provide laypersons’ guides to contemporary understanding of neurophysiology and neuropsychology.

The introduction details the rationale for Ramachandran’s writing approach. In short, a need for a lay person’s book that does not ‘talk down’ to the intelligent reader but has sufficient substance to intrigue and inform.

Chapter 1 covers an aspect forming the foundation of Ramachandran’s work on ‘phantom limbs’. Neurological explanations for why some amputees still ‘feel’ their detached limb with a plausible reason for sensory regions to still be networked and accessible when parts of the brain in proximity to the detached bit are activated.

The second chapter summarise current understandings on seeing and knowing. Providing for an extension of the concepts discussed in the previous chapter.

Chapters 3 and 5 cover the interesting phenomenon of ‘synesthesia’, the ability to ‘see’ in colour or feel or taste numbers or music and the challenges presented by autism. A good overview, especially on autism and why and how savants develop.

The fourth chapter discusses the ‘neurons that shaped civilisation’. A precursor to the next chapter on language. Discusses how neurons have evolved to allow for social interactions. Therefore, takes on an evolutionary psychology / neurological stance. Importance of 'mirror neurons' and their role in human empathic processes discussed.

Chapter 6 delves into the evolution of language. How the brain works to allow us to learn languages. What is innate in us to allow language to develop and the role and contribution of ‘nurture’ – the socio-cultural dimension.

The topic of aesthetics is covered in chapter 7 with the authors’ ‘universal laws’ of how humans gauge ‘beauty’ and other forms of qualia discussed in chapter 8. Perhaps the weakest chapters in the book as Ramachandran argues for the neurological roots of art appreciation and our need to find  balance and patterns to deal with the complex audio visual sensory world we live in.

The last (and important) chapter provides food for thought on the topic of ‘how introspection evolved’. A summary on edge makes for good reading plus extensive summary and discussion from this blog on this last chapter 'an ape with a soul'. 

A glossary is provided along with notes pertinent to each chapter along with a bibliography and index.

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