Tell-Tale Brain-V.S. Ramachandran
Ramachandran uses neuroscience to explore questions of human existence through the discussion of very unusual cases.
I heard the premise of this book and immediately thought of Oliver Sacks. I enjoy Sacks but I've always felt a bit of a strange disquiet from his case studies-a bit of voyeurism. I'm happy to say Ramachandran was not at all like that. They explore many of the same disorders,like alien hand syndrome, but approach in completely different ways. While Sacks tries to understand how it feels to have the altered perceptions, Ramachandran seeks physical reasons for them going far beyond the accident that caused them. Instead Ramachandran looks to the structures in the brain whose function is highlighted when they are damaged. The disorders are partially ways to understand murky parts of the brain itself rather than just a way to understand our human experience.
And still, Ramachandran looks beyond just the structural damage and the structures that we can understand better and THEN steps back and discusses how that then can be tied into more general understandings. He is not shy about extrapolating but he also provides ways to test his explanations which is invaluable. His reliance on the scientific method may be a little impersonal but it leads credence to the ability of taking small scale analysis to the large scale.
I was particularly intrigued by the mirror neurons. The neurons that fire not just when you perform an action but when you watch others perform an action. His arguments linking those to the assimilation of information and autism were convincing and I look forward to future research on these neurons. Ramachandran was that convincing and that capable to transferring his excitement to the reader.
I recommend to folks who are intrigued by our minds, autism, neuroscience, or are fans of Oliver Sacks's case study based work. I'd argue this is a step up.