The Tell Tale Brain by V. S. Ramachandran

People reading this book should be interested in science of human brains and ‘inventions in progress’. It delves into the those un trod part of our brain that many of us have not even heard about. Neuroscience, in my opinion is different from any other science in the sense that you have to deal with a different patient each time; a newly found defect. In effect, he interviews many crackpots (crackpots in public perception but they are actually patients) during his long career and describes their experiences in detail. Some of them I can highlight here – like he talks about 1) synesthesia: an ability to able to combine two different senses which is not normal in human beings. Examples are people seeing color every time they see a number – seven is red, 4 is purple, 2 is green so on and so forth. There are different types of synesthesia in existence, like the one in which you can taste names or metal (as a food connoisseur) like when you touch steel, person suffering from synesthesia can feel salty or sour and on hearing a person’s name one can associate it with a specific taste such as being sweet, spicy, etc. Then he describes people who laugh when hurt physically ( instead of shouting in agony :)), persons who have had an accident and cannot demarcate weeds from flowers, a lady who cannot see anything in motion (apparently, she can see only moving images! ) & then there is this very well-educated doctor who after a blow to his brain from an accident cannot understand the true meaning of metaphors – he defines “all that glitters is not gold” by checking gold properly before buying. Mr. Ramachandran talks about Autism as a deficiency of the brains where mirror neurons are missing. Mirror neurons, for new comers, are neurons which help us to imitate actions of other people around us and help us to do things as per the norms of the community of which we are a part of. Mirror neurons has helped to understand so many of the problems mentioned above. He painstakingly explains the cases and then scientifically examines it by going into every part of the brain from where the problem originated. This book involves little in form of any modern tech gadgets and relies solely on experiences and experiments of highly respected Mr. Ramachandran. He takes you through a journey of evolution of mankind and how did our brain get evolved to do complex tasks with such ease. He sheds light on poor progress in neuroscience over the past two centuries and how more funds and research is needed to delve deeper. From my side, it is a must read for curious souls and science fanatics. It might add a new dimension to your thinking. Last but not the least, I would like to salute Mr. Ramachandran for writing such an excellent piece of work and enlightening ‘lesser mortals’ ( like me J) outside his sphere of work.

Btw, one of my surprise learning from this book is that most of the writers, poets & artists  (two-thirds probably) are suffering from synesthesia as creative enthusiasts use a lot of metaphors in their work.

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