Phantoms in the Brain
By VS Ramachandran & Sandra Blakeslee
Review by Kiran (Medicine)
I found Phantoms in the Brain in an airport bookstore when I was in Year 10. I had always been interested in the brain, but I could only find a few accessible and interesting books about the brain. This book fit all of my criteria, and quickly became one of my favourite popular science books.
Ramachandran describes the intriguing cases he has worked upon, whilst seamlessly weaving in the scientific knowledge necessary to understand them. The book focuses on neurological disorders, and explains everything in a simple and uncomplicated way, which made it perfect for me. One case that he wrote about that particularly interested me was about a man suffering from Charles Bonnet syndrome, which is when people experience hallucinations after losing their eyesight. He would see extremely vivid images in the lower half of his visual field, in which he was blind. In one instance, he hallucinated a monkey sitting on Ramachandran’s lap, which he could only tell wasn’t real because of contextual clues.
There are also various experiments that you can try for yourself, which demonstrate the power of the brain. I really enjoyed being able to experience the many quirks of the brain for myself, before showing them to my family and then explaining the mechanisms behind them.
I had been considering a career in medicine for a while, but this book ultimately made my mind up for me. Ramachandran’s ability to empathise with his patients suffering from rare neurological disorders was inspiring, and the fact that his work was barely scratching the surface of the many mysteries of the brain made me eager to want to be part of the ever evolving world of medicine. I would recommend this to anyone with a keen interest in the brain, and especially to anyone who is a fan of Oliver Sacks (a prominent neurologist and author).
Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind by VS Ramachandran & Sandra Blakeslee