Book Review: Phantoms in the Brain

The featured book is ‘Phantoms in the Brain’ by Sandra Blakeslee and V.S. Ramachandran. As Blakeslee and Ramachandran are both authors, I wasn’t sure what the contributions were by each although in the Acknowledgements section, Ramachandran thanks Blakeslee, a science writer for helping to make the book more accessible suggesting the role that each has played. Ramachandran has a lot of experience in the field of neuroscience research which is relevant to this book. Ramachandran shows  versatility in writing a fascinating account of a number of psychiatric illnesses and aspects of psychological functioning (e.g. visual perception) from an inquisitive neurobiological perspective. Along the way he weaves disparate themes and illustrative cases into the narrative. Ramachandran’s explanations of cases of Capgras, Charles Bonnet and  Couvades syndrome are thought provoking and offer a paradigmatic shift that can be applied to other areas. For instance, with Capgras syndrome, Ramachandran proposes that there a disconnection between the amygdala and temporal cortex leads people to lose the the feeling of familiarity they experience when they see people close to them. Particularly interesting is Ramachandran’s use of mirrors to investigate a number of phenomenon. The book is named after the ‘Phantom Limb’ with which he also uses mirrors in order to ‘trick’ the brain into remapping areas involved in perception. His approach to the phantom limbs has been widely reported and has even permeated popular culture. As there is some similarity to Oliver Sack’s interests it is fitting that Sacks writes a foreward to Ramachandran’s book. Ramachandran has a very distinctive style which also reflects his inquistive approach, a belief in using ‘low-tech’ experiments and seeking a cause for the unusual . In each chapter he takes us on a journey filled with insights. For instance in ‘The Unbearable Likeness of Being’ he writes

This idea teaches us an important principle about brain function, namely, that all our perceptions – indeed, maybe all aspects of our minds – are governed by comparisons and not by absolute values

‘Phantoms in the Brain’ is a fascinating ‘tour de force’ of neurobiology which focuses on a number of psychiatric conditions and offers powerful insights into how some of these may arise.


Sandra Blakeslee and V.S.Ramachandran. Phantoms in the Brain. Harper Perennial. 2005.


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The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.


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