Home Authors Books Subjects Events Software Features Links Newsletter Gifts Blog Write Review What's New
Review - Phantoms in the Brain - Sandra Blakeslee & V. S. Ramachandran
"What causes a wide range of strange mental behaviours?" asks the author at the start of the book. Traditionally many of these would have been put down as being "just madness", but as we come to know more of how the brain works we can start to see physical reasons for the strange perceptions and behaviours.
I was a little uncertain about V. S. Ramachandran's response to a question he says he often gets asked - "When are you brain scientists ever going to come up with a unified theory of how the mind works?" They are looking for a sort of brain version of general relativity and Newton's laws, he suggests, and that won't happen yet, as we are more at the descriptive Michael Faraday point in the history of brain science, rather than the Maxwell's equations stage, where things get more quantified and tied down. Ramachandran has a point, but surely the real answer is because the brain isn't a fundamental building block of nature - it's a bit like asking when is there going to be a unified theory of the automobile engine, or the computer - it just doesn't mean anything.
That aside, however, this is a totally fascinating exploration of the brain starting from different problems with the mind and linking them back to the technical problem in the brain. It's fluently written and carries you forward all the time. I was a little concerned about a brief excursion into new ageism - finding that the mind can influence the body doesn't mean that we have to abandon "Western thinking" or look for some new mystical union of science and Eastern philosophy - it just means that the mind can influence the body. But that apart it was great reading all the way.
I suspect Ramachandran was very wise in teaming up with science writer Sandra Blakeslee in producing this book. All too often scientists produce frustratingly impenetrable "popular" science books because they just don't have the skill to get the message across well. The result here has been to make this book read extremely well - it's just a pity, perhaps that Blakeslee has been so sidelined in the presentation of the book (you can hardly see her name on the cover). You expect this to happen when someone ghost authors a celebrity's "autobiography", but not in a science book.
Overall, then, a very successful exploration of the brain through its failings that might make those who find mental problems disturbing wince, but otherwise is packed with insight.
Also in hardback:
Reviewed by Jo Reed
This site has no connection with Popular Science magazine or other sites and publications with a similar name.
Much of the content of this site is written by popular science writers or friends of popular science writers. Inevitably many of the reviews in such a small community are written by or about someone we know. We always aim to be impartial in our reviews, but there is a connection which we need make clear, as there is no intention to deceive. The content of any review or article is solely the opinion of the author and should not be read or understood on any other basis. The site exists to promote popular science writing and popular science authors and for this reason should be considered promotional material, just as the editorial reviews in an online bookshop or the blurb on the back of a book should be considered promotional.
The website should not be eaten or used where it can come into contact with water.
Disagree with our review? Want to comment on a feature? Contact us at info@ popularscience.co.uk - have your say!
Part of the site
Copyright © Creativity
Unleashed Limited 2005
Last update 05 June 2007