If a small five essay, ‘non-fiction’ book continues to make you read and re-read it, there should be something in it. ‘The emerging mind’ is interesting, entertaining and is very well written. I wrote two posts on this book around January, one on Synesthesia and the other on Hysteria. However, months after that reading phase, I caught this book again in a train journey from Bangalore to Hyderabad. I got in to the train super-tired, with the sole intention of getting to my upper berth and sleep till I reach Hyderabad. I opened the book for a moment, since I thought 6:30 is too early to sleep. 🙂 That’s it, I was hooked! I read it till I could read no longer…till my eyes automatically closed out of tiredness…and woke up thinking about it when the train stopped somewhere in the middle! Not only that, I’ve more or less abandoned the blog for more than a month now… and I thought this would be the month with no posts, first time in nearly 4.5 years of this blog. But, this made me write! I came to office at 8AM to write this! 🙂
What makes the book tick?
I think the topics it discusses, are firstly an all-time-entertainer topics. Can you show me someone who is not curious to know ‘How brain works’? Whether we really understand what some expert on this topic says or not, is an entirely different thing, though 😛 But, in the case of this book, V.S.Ramachandran approaches the problem differently. He takes some mental disorders and from there deduce the functioning of some parts of the brain. Oh, well, the pictures and those scientific names are still hazy to the lazy me. However, if we follow Ramachandran’s stream, we can understand what is going on.
Lecture 1: Phantoms in the brain
In this chapter, Dr VSR points different neurological disorders and tries to explain the brain functionality through them. The summary of this lecture, as said by Dr VSR:
So we have seen several syndromes here which suggest that you can look at neurological oddities, neurological syndrome and learn a great deal about the functions of the normal brain. I would like to conclude with a quotation from my previous book, Phantoms in the Brain, “There is something distinctly odd about a hairless, neotenous primate that has evolved into a species that can look back over its own shoulder to ponder its own origins. Odder still, the brain cannot only discover how other brains work but also ask questions about itself, who am I? What is the meaning of my existence, especially if you are from India? Why do I laugh? Why do I dream, why do I enjoy art, music and poetry? Does my mind consist entirely of the activity of neurons in my brain? If so, what scope is there for free will? It is the peculiar recursive quality of these questions as the brain struggles to understand itself that makes neurology so fascinating. The prospect of answering these questions in the next millennium is both exhilarating and disquieting, but it’s surely the greatest adventure that our species has ever embarked upon.”
-Indeed!!! I think this one statement summarizes what the whole book is about!
Lecture 2: Synapses and the Self
This chapter primarily concerns itself with vision and some motor-neuron activities. Dr VSR mentions some of the experiments they did with patients. Some of those observations are real amusing as well as surprising! Especially, those observations about paralyzed patients.
Lecture 3: The Artful Brain
Its about art! Its interesting to see how a scientist defines art and tries to understand it from the ‘brainy’ perspective!!
Lecture 4: Purple Numbers and Sharp Cheese
I wrote about this here. After discussing synesthesia in greater detail, he turned to cross-connections between different areas in the brain. Finally, he discusses on the evolution of language!! I love to read this part of the passage again and again – for its a good summary. He summarizes and then starts formulating his own theory of language evolution…Would love to read more of this writings on that front!
Lecture 5: Neuroscience – the New Philosophy
-This is the most ‘complicated’ essay among the five. I think there were too many things to talk about. But, yeah, a very interesting article again!
Well, this is one of those books, that is making me read and re-read it, despite the fact that I know what I am going to read. I think this is the way popular science books should be written. I am yet to read his better known book ‘Phantoms in the brain’, despite the fact that I purchased it an year ago! (I pity those books, which I buy and read only after they get old and catch cold!) I think I’d soon write in better detail about this book at pustakam.net! Its a must read, I say!
Read/Listen to these lectures online here.