Thursday, January 21, 2010

Phantoms in the Brain

Look at this, another update. This semester I'm reading an educational book by the psychologist Dr. V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee as part of my Behavioral Neuroscience class. This class is requiring me to write summaries of the chapters I read, and I felt my fellow bloggers may be interested in the book as well. My summaries may include spoliers, but hopefully not too detailed. I hope that with these I can spark your interest and maybe you'll want to pick it up.

Phantoms in the Brain—Chapter 1

Chapter one of Phantoms in the Brain is a basic overview of what the book will contain. The book discusses Ramachandran’s views on neuroscience, scientific discovery, and brain abnormalities. He also does a great job of explaining the brain in a way to allow those who have no knowledge of the brain’s inner workings to understand his book.

The book begins with examples. He gives teasers of what we expect to be followed up in subsequent chapters about the affects of brain damage. We meet an athlete with a phantom limb, a nurse with visual hallucinations, a schoolteacher insistent she is not paralyzed, a librarian who died laughing, and Arthur who insists his parents are imposters. Ramachandran insures us these people are not crazy, and that they don’t belong under a psychiatrist’s careful care, but that they have completely understandable brain problems that just need a little digging to discover.

Ramachandran spends most of this chapter explaining how he views being a medical scientist as being a skilled detective, out to piece together the clues to solve the mystery. Throughout his studies this is exactly what he’s done; uncover mysteries of the brain by piecing together the scientific evidence. I think the most interesting piece of this chapter was when he discussed his teacher, Dr. K.V. Thiruvengadam. The idea that many serious diseases have distinct smells, or even slight physical evidence hardly noticed, is simply amazing. I think it takes a skilled and well-trained doctor to be able to not only know that this type of identification exists, but use it in practice. However, if my doctor were to come into the examination room, sniff me, and tell me that my break smelled like nail polish and therefore I must have diabetic ketosis, I might find him a little crazy.

Our author understands that not every reader is a psychologist and that sometimes science terminology can get scary. I think it’s great that he spends a few pages showing diagrams and explaining the main parts of the brain that he’ll be covering and what their functions are. He also presents it in a manner that is user friendly and doesn’t make the reader feel like they’re reading a textbook.

This chapter left me wanting to know more and continue reading. It also is a fairly fast read, due to its interesting nature and every-day language, for the most part. Chapter one was the enticing introduction it needed to be to get a reader hooked. I am looking forward to the next eleven chapters.


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