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A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Impostor Poodles to Purple Numbers

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  3,059 Ratings  ·  113 Reviews
How can some people come to believe that their poodle is an impostor? Or see colors in numbers? Internationally acclaimed neuroscientist, V.S. Ramachandran, now shares his unique insight into human consciousness in an entertaining, inspiring, and intellectually dazzling brief tour of the ultimate frontier—the thoughts in our heads.A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness is mad ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published July 26th 2005 by Plume (first published December 4th 2003)
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Sep 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mind-and-brain
Ramachandran is brilliant. This is a really engaging book book that explores human consciousness by looking at various disorders or patients with brain damage who now function in really odd ways(Ramachandran's usual M.O.). The case studies are fascinating as always, and his commentary on them is what really makes the book(particularly his end notes, which comprise almost half the book).

An interesting problem, which he brought up a few times during the course of the book, and which I myself have
Feb 09, 2013 rated it did not like it
There was a close competition between the author's ignorance and arrogance and the jury is still out as to the winner. At the head of the most annoying chapter (out of many others that were only irritating) called "Neuroscience - The New Philosophy" the author is quoting himself! ("All of philosophy consists of unlocking, exhuming, and recanting what's been said before, and then getting riled up about it." - V.S. Ramachandran) - how witty! it seems one can easily rile people up even more effecti ...more
Feb 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Ramachandran and his work deserve more than three stars. I enjoyed The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human and Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind so much, and learned so much reading them, that I went back to this one, though it's 15 years old. This is more like a sketchy outline of some of the others, just 100 pages in five chapters, and another 60 pages of endnotes (which I didn't read). His looks into the workings of the brain are fasc ...more
Jon Stout
Jul 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
V.S. Ramachandran is interested in how the scientific study of the brain can clarify some of the philosophical issues pertaining to consciousness (and thus to the mind-body problem). His work is comparable to that of António R. Damásio, although Ramachandran has more of an adventurous and speculative attitude, including a playful sense of humor.

Like Damasio, Ramachandran conducts elaborate experiments which result in associating particular kinds of functional behavior with particular areas or ch
I have studied synesthesia and mirror neurons as part of my psychology degree at university, and Ramachandran has been a big name on the refference list, so it only made sense to read his books, not just his scientific papers. This is a brilliant account of some of his and his colleagues' discoveries in the field of neurobiology, and I would recommend it to anyone who has a keen interest in the human mind. Beautifully written and backed up by numerous research papers, this book might just be the ...more
Jeffrey Belcher
Jul 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
To start off, I have never been interested in becoming a doctor in any way, so this is not the type of book that I would normally read. A co-worker who is studying to be a doctor had to read this book for a class, and when I was complaining that I didn’t have anything to read, she said “Here, read this and stop crying.” So I did. And it messed me up. I mean come on, phantom limbs? Pain in phantom limbs? Seeing different numbers as colors? I had never heard of any of those things. And this guy, R ...more
Wendy White
Dec 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Ramachandran looks at some of the ways we can learn about the brain by seeing at what has changed (structurally) in a brain that no longer functions as we would suspect, such as a person who suddenly feels they are no longer alive, or someone who can no longer connect recognition of faces to emotional responses.

He also examines how our brain desperately rationalises unexpected responses to stimuli, which is very intriguing and makes me feel even more highly suspicious of my own perceptions!

The t
Jan 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating and, more importantly, extremely accessible book about some of the quirkier aspects of the human brain. I've read several books that literally required rereading multiple passages to get the drift of what the author was trying to communicate. This is NOT one of those books. Ramachandran spells things out well and clearly. If neuroscience interests you, this is a keeper. If you're one of those people who love watching documentaries about the brain and human behavior, pick t ...more
Oct 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
I loved this book. Neuroscience has always been an interest to me and the way this author presents various cases and disorders only makes me fascinated more. I enjoyed this book and it wasn't too lengthy or boring. To be honest I only disliked one of the chapters, but only because it didn't appeal to me as much as all the others did! It has a lot of the interesting cases in the Notes so I think it's important to read that. This was a greatly written non fiction book for non-neuroscientists. I'll ...more
Jul 31, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
Ramachandran is one of the most inventive brain researchers around, and enjoys writing books for the lay audience. He delves into the mysteries of perception, of unusual abilities, and traces them to defects and peculiarities of the brain and its connections. Very rewarding dip into the neuroscience pool.
Jul 28, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2010
I hate to throw away books, but just this once, I tore the book up into tiny pieces so that no one could fish it out of the garbage and accidentally read it.
Not only is VSR a racist bigot, but his research and writing isn't even as good as those forwards your mom sends you once a week which you have to use to prove to her they're fake.
Mar 31, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the brain, psychology, consciousness
Very basic but excellent (necessarily partial) overview; particularly interesting passages about the neurological basis of art, linguistics, and consciousness.

Pointless insertions of the author's inconsequential political views (but what's new?).

Esteban del Mal
Ramachandran's prose grates. I usually skip his articles in Scientific American Mind and this book doesn't offer anything new to the study of consciousness, toeing the strict materialist line very closely.
A quite interesting book, examining the workings of the human brain through deviations from normal function. Voluminous and very helpful endnotes. Need to find more from this author.
Dec 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: neuroscienze, reviews
Gli argomenti sono gia’ stati trattati in “la donna che mori’ dal ridere’ ed in “cosa sappiamo della mente”, per cui a chi li abbia letti suonano un po’ ripetitivi.
Nondimeno la materia e’ affascinante e Ramachandran e’ un eccellente divulgatore, per cui il libro resta una lettura piu’ che interessante.

Il ritardo nella percezione cosciente del comando (misurato tramite un innalzamento dell’EEG all’atto dell’attivazione di “preparedness”) non mi sembra contraddica il libero arbitrio:
Apr 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting stuff, though the book felt more like a teaser than full-length. Nonetheless, a good introduction to the neurology underneath consciousness, and invites consideration of consciousness as a crossroads between objective and subjective 'reality'.
Sarah Gibson
Apr 22, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
The quote on the front of the book says: "...belongs to that rare category of scientific book, one as accessible as it is deep" (Oliver Sacks). I found this book entirely too accessible and not at all deep enough.

From a content perspective, I did learn a few interesting tidbits. But I did NOT learn what consciousness is. He's mostly just scratching the surface--not providing enough discussion to really engage you. He is also very speculative, which is fine, but why not provide enough evidence or
Chris Friend
Mar 24, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Folks interested in neurology...really interested
Written halfway through the book:

I picked this one up because of the author's interactions with WNYC's Radio Lab. He provides very interesting and thoughtful insights on that program, and I was looking forward to diving into the "whys and wherefores" of his trade, his theories, and his experiences. So far, I've been a bit disappointed with how unscientific this book is. I'm sure it's a fault more of my expectations than anything, but it's very, very much aimed for the layman, not the casual, int
Nov 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: anthropology-etc
Gah! I got to the end and discovered that the notes 11 and 12 from Chapter 5, Neuroscience - The New philosophy, aren't there! You turn to the notes and the last one is 10! Only 57% of this book is text and the rest is notes (very interesting ones!), glossary, and index. Oh, and acknowledgements - which seem to cover everyone Ramachandran has met in his life.

Much of the early chapters covers material I've read about in Oliver Sacks's books. Ramachandran takes the case studies a step further by
Feb 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting book but I found it less engaging and less easy to understand as other popular science books on neuroscience.
May 04, 2010 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Jen by: Valerie
There's some interesting information to be gleaned from this book, but Ramachandran doesn't make many solid conclusions, and he juxtaposes his cognitive theories with some completely pointless off-color jokes and unnecessary political asides.

In addition, the valuable material presented is hindered by some truly terrible proofreading and rampant errors. In the final chapter, there is a reference for endnote 12. There is no endnote 12 in that chapter.

Quite possibly the most jarring science-related
Feb 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating research, great examples appropriatelly tailored for a general audience, and captivating presentation style about the role of the brain in performance of the human body. I liked his studies of abnormal behaviours to identify hypothetical neuronal network redesign inside the brain in response to various structural and functional disturbances.

Ramachandran presents the major topics included in the book in this free video:
Sep 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
Read the notes! I just gave the book a whole extra star after reading them (it also goes from PG to R, if you know what I mean). Shit, skip the book and just read the notes because that's where Ramachandran's liveliness, enthusiasm, crazy and experiment ideas can be found. He still engages in some piety and monkey-hating, but far less than in the "actual" book. It is like two books in one!

Still confused? Just answer the following:

If you were given the option to read one of the following books, w
Sep 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
First off – if you haven’t read Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain, you need to read it. And I know you haven’t read it. I just looked at the page for that book and noticed that none of my friends has listed it. What’s up with that?

Ramachandran starts this book with brief recapping of some of the fascinating neural disorders that he discussed in Phantoms in the Brain along with their implications for answering questions about human consciousness. Here, however, he goes beyond neuroscience to
Jan 28, 2013 rated it liked it
I had to read this for a psychology decision-making class, but this book has nothing to do with decision-making (I blame my teacher for that one).

The book has five different chapters and lots of notes, taking a crack at different concepts of human consciousness. Each chapter addresses a different theme, and so the chapters don't flow into each other.

The chapters start with scientific evidence, mostly from case studies and Ramachandran's own research. The style is very accessible and Ramachandra
Mar 24, 2014 rated it it was ok
A short book, but packed full of ideas. There are three or four different ideas on almost every page -- ideas about the brain and consciousness, of course, but also about evolution, art, philosophy, ethics, and even criminal justice. They're almost all intriguing. Unfortunately, none of them are explored in sufficient depth for the reader to form much of an opinion. Most likely this is due to the fact that book originated a series of lectures. Also, most of the case studies will be familiar to a ...more
Dec 13, 2009 rated it really liked it

Although I am not sure Ramachandran intended to do so, this "brief tour" serves as the perfect introduction to his other book, "Phantoms in the Brain." If you're mildly interested in the brain, then read A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness. However, if your thirst runs deeper, skip this book and go straight for 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 origins
Aug 07, 2011 rated it liked it
Ramachandran has written a concise little volume, drawing from many years of experience, illustrating numerous brain functions through tales of certain disorders and pathology. Oliver Sacks--who I would rate one of the worst and most boring of all science writers--called him one of our best science writers and claims that the book is both accessible and deep. The book is not extremely accessible to the lay reader (who can still gloss over the more technical aspects and derive some pleasure and i ...more
Jul 20, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people who like to be shown chocolate and are fine when the 'shower' pops it into his own mouth
Recommended to Gabrielle by: Powells (Portland)
Rama! “It’s too fucking brief!”

You skipped, foot to foot, across topics! Explaining two different syndromes in two paragraphs! And they were very short paragraphs, mind you!! I wish to convey to you the lack of beauty and climactic scenes that were so ready to bloom and yet you jumped the hurtle running onto yet another (fucking brief) explanation of another syndrome.

However, Rama, the chapter entitled ‘The Artful Brain’ was moving and caused a sharp change in perspective of how one views art o
Mar 09, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011-new
This was good enough read for what it was - a quick and dirty run-down of some rather intriguing mental disturbances and their usefulness in understanding the human brain, as well as the possible implications of understanding the human mind. I'm one for details though, and every brief glimpse of a patient or study left me wanting to know more, so even though it was designed to be a quick read (and was, in fact, written from a lecture that Ramachandran did) I felt a bit cheated. Perhaps it would ...more
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Vilayanur S. "Rama" Ramachandran is a neurologist best known for his work in the fields of behavioral neurology and psychophysics. He is currently the Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, Professor in the Psychology Department and Neurosciences Program at the University of California, San Diego, and Adjunct Professor of Biology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

Ramachandran i
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“The common denominator of all jokes is a path of expectation that is diverted by an unexpected twist necessitating a complete reinterpretation of all the previous facts — the punch-line…Reinterpretation alone is insufficient. The new model must be inconsequential. For example, a portly gentleman walking toward his car slips on a banana peel and falls. If he breaks his head and blood spills out, obviously you are not going to laugh. You are going to rush to the telephone and call an ambulance. But if he simply wipes off the goo from his face, looks around him, and then gets up, you start laughing. The reason is, I suggest, because now you know it’s inconsequential, no real harm has been done. I would argue that laughter is nature’s way of signaling that "it’s a false alarm." Why is this useful from an evolutionary standpoint? I suggest that the rhythmic staccato sound of laughter evolved to inform our kin who share our genes; don’t waste your precious resources on this situation; it’s a false alarm. Laughter is nature’s OK signal.” 27 likes
“Even though its common knowledge these days, it never ceases to amaze me that all the richness of our mental life - all our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, our ambitions, our love life, our religious sentiments and even what each of us regards us his own intimate private self - is simply the activity of these little specks of jelly in your head, in your brain. There is nothing else.” 18 likes
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