Synopses & Reviews
In the tradition of Oliver Sacks, a tour of the latest neuroscience of schizophrenia, autism, Alzheimers disease, ecstatic epilepsy, Cotards syndrome, out-of-body experiences, and other disordersrevealing the awesome power of the human sense of self from a master of science journalism
Anil Ananthaswamys extensive in-depth interviews venture into the lives of individuals who offer perspectives that will change how you think about who you are. These individuals all lost some part of what we think of as our self, but they then offer remarkable, sometimes heart-wrenching insights into what remains. One man cut off his own leg. Another became one with the universe.
We are learning about the self at a level of detail that Descartes (I think therefore I am”) could never have imagined. Recent research into Alzheimers illuminates how memory creates your narrative self by using the same part of your brain for your past as for your future. But wait, those afflicted with Cotards syndrome think they are already dead; in a way, they believe that I think therefore I am not.” Whoor whatcan say that? Neuroscience has identified specific regions of the brain that, when they misfire, can cause the self to move back and forth between the body and a doppelgänger, or to leave the body entirely. So where in the brain, or mind, or body, is the self actually located? As Ananthaswamy elegantly reports, neuroscientists themselves now see that the elusive sense of self is both everywhere and nowhere in the human brain.
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.
A brilliant "Sherlock Holmes" of neuroscience reveals the strangest cases he has solved, uncovering bold insights into deep and quirky questions of human nature few scientists have dared to address. 25 line illustrations.
About the Author
ANIL ANANTHASWAMY is an award-winning science journalist and former deputy news editor and current consultant for New Scientist. He is a guest lecturer at UC Santa Cruz's renowned science writing program and teached an annual science journalism workshop at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India. He is a feature editor for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science's Front Matter and has written for National Geographic News, Discover, Matter, The Times (UK), and The Independent (UK). He has been a columnist for PBS NOVAs The Nature of Reality blog. His first book, The Edge of Physics, was voted book of the year in 2010 by Physics World. He lives in Bangalore, India, and Santa Cruz, California.