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am 17. Februar 2007
In "Phantoms in the Brain" the neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran and the science writer Sandra Blakeslee combine two very different issues in an amazing way: Philosophy from the far east and contemporary brain research. Eastern philosophy tells us that our self is just an illusion, while brain research suggests that we have already made a decision before we are aware of it. Thus, we would act fully deterministically.

Although I rather believe in the arguments Roger Penrose had risen in his wonderful books "The Emperors New Mind" and "Shadows of the Mind" pointing out that there must be something indeterministic going on in our minds because of Goedel's theorem of incompleteness, "Phantoms" was very pleasant to read. There are many arguments I share, e.g. that a good part of our self is just a social illusion of how we like to be regarded by others. Although the authors are very speculative in several issues in which they are not experts (e.g. schizophrenia), their ideas are very stimulating and the volume is one of several popular science books I'm glad to having read.
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am 14. März 2000
I read this book at a clip of several hundred pages per day. It beats most fiction for excitement and provides the impetus to read more in neurology. Neurology is truly a science and this book asks the right questions about consciousness, perception, and mental "health." I have cleaned out the library shelves on neurology and only wish there were more books like this one. The section on body image is particularly interesting--could the technique described in this book be used to help treat eating disorders and the like? It also provides a fresh perspective on the much-discussed dual-brain theory. Enjoy.
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am 4. Mai 1999
A light and breezy account of some of the oddities of neurology, much in the spirit of Oliver Sacks (who also wrote the introduction). Much of the book is devoted to cases of people exhibiting odd behavior after losing part of their brain. This is familiar stuff to any serious student of the brain but will delight and amuse the lay reader unfamiliar with this literature. In addition, the authors offer their thoughts on some of the more contentious issues in many of the fields they touch upon, such as the validity of evolutionary psychology, the limits of adaptationism in evolutionary thought, and the nature of qualia in relation to brain function, to name a few. Furthermore, Ramachandran puts forth some interesting ideas of his own. He refers to the temporal lobe regions involved in complex shape analyses and object recognition as a distinct system or "pathway," which he calls the "what" pathway of vision, endowed with memory and consciousness, while the visual processing areas in the parietal lobe concerned with motion detection and 3-D mapping in space are lumped together as the "where" pathway, which has neither memory nor consciousness. Not being shy, the authors also proceed to emunerate the qualities of qualia, the 3 ingredients of consciousness and other riddles that have puzzled philosophers for centuries. Given the empirical evidence from brain research that supports their views (much of which unfortunately they do not discuss in detail, for brevity's sake), they offer more true insight into these issues than the mountains of philosophical dross these issues have generated in times both ancient and modern. Ramachandran may not be right, but he shows that a little empirical, scientific knowledge proves far more useful than a lot of groundless speculation by armchair experts. A good read for both novice and professional.
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am 29. Dezember 1998
Anyone looking for a new paradigm for consciousness should read this book, in particular anyone without any prior knowledge of neural science. The book is full of the latest discoveries about how the brain works, including several experiments you can perform by yourself or with friends. In particular, I found that the experiment which the author(s) have you perform on yourself with your blind spot particularly discombobulating, as you watch as your mind "fills in" missing information, and even "hallucinates" things that aren't there. You're left feeling that you can't even trust your own eyes! The final chapter is particularly important, and required reading for anyone interested in how neural science affects our understanding of consciousness and self.
My only complaint is that the book seems schizophrenic; it is scientific, but constantly needs to reassure us as if it were afraid that a purely scientific understanding of our lives is somehow inimical to our artistic selves. The book continually quotes Shakespeare. I'm not sure if that's because the book has two authors, that Ms. Blakeslee was brought in to soften up the science a bit. It often seems as if there's a phantom author.
Even so, it's enjoyable can't-put-it-down reading and contains several important points which should add significantly to your understanding of your brain works and consciousness itself.
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am 12. Januar 1999
Ramachandran's ability to captivate is partly due to his sense of humour, which in itself is a welcome change from the numbing factual recitations plaguing books about the brain. But the primary reason why the book is hard to put down is the investigative approach. Each chapter explores some fundamentally challenging behaviour of the brain, and since each of us require this information to a greater or lesser extent, the unravelling of the sometimes surreal situations and their resolution by simple experiments of logic is fascinating. Ramachandran uses very little other than an ingenious approach, and whether all of the basic experiments are solely his or not is irrelevant, since they are only the building blocks on which he bases his deductions. It could do with some colour illustrations, but it doesn't pretend to be that sort of a book. It's a good read, so just go and buy it!
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am 13. Oktober 1999
This is the single most enlightening book I have read in the last ten years. Only 'The Anthropic Cosmological Principle' by Barrow and Tipler comes close. This book not only provides a very easily assimilated introduction to neuroscience, but amazingly give you the impression that you might actually be able to contribute. Dr Ramachandran's experiments, while some require expensive equipment, mostly simply require two things: 1) knowledge of the operation of the currently known processes and structures of the brain. 2) an intelligent observer.
Read this book. While it can not and does not claim to contain all the answers, neverthless you will be a whole lot closer to understanding the human condition after reading it than before.
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am 19. April 1999
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It challenges the reader to reconsider the assumption that each person's "self" is a single, indivisible entity. The author illustrates this challenge with simple, clear perception experiments that suggest plausible (but radical) changes to our working model of the human mind. The book's best feature is that it successfully resists any temptation the author may have felt to speculate beyond the evidence at hand. It is a worthy addition to the great tradition of carefully reporting recent experimental results to the reading public, which may well have begun with Robert Boyle ("The Sceptical Chymist") and the air pump.
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am 16. Juli 1999
The 17th-century natural philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes is well known for the statement that opens his proof of the existence of God: "Cogito, ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am).
Descartes had long sought a starting point for philosophy that could not be doubted, and the fact that he was thinking was what he settled upon.
But now that I've read "Phantoms in the Brain", I wonder if perhaps the Moody Blues' version might be closer to the truth: "I think, therefore I must be. . . I think..."
"Of course you are, you bright little star. . . to suit our GREAT computer, you're magnetic ink!"
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am 19. März 2000
Recent trends of neurology being close to spirituality as reflected in the works of Sir Charles Sherrington, Gray Walter and others finds a new perspective in this book. Ramachandran has hinted at this closeness at various places of his book and gives a clue that the day is not far when many spiritual problems of man can be found to have a deep relation with his neurological constitution.
Its refreshing to see a new light thrown on this subject. Ramachandran joins class with very few who endeavoured to join this quest. This book is a must for all who want to probe into the deeper truths of life.
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am 17. Dezember 1998
This is easily one of the best non-fiction books I've read in the past year. I am a student of psychology, with an emphasis on both neuroscience and cognitive science, and I can say that this book should be very interesting for both the layman and professional alike. The author's style is very easy to read, and he provides just the right amount of technical information to inform the non-scientist and yet not bore those who are well-educated in the fields he discusses. I highly recommend this book to anyone even remotely interested in the way the mind works (pretty much anyone who's got one, that is).
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