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Turnbull, O. (1999). Phantoms in the Brain: Human Nature and the Architecture of the Mind: V. S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakslee. London: Fourth Estate, 1998, 328 pp., $27.00.. Neuropsychoanalysis, 1(2):269-272.

(1999). Neuropsychoanalysis, 1(2):269-272

Phantoms in the Brain: Human Nature and the Architecture of the Mind: V. S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakslee. London: Fourth Estate, 1998, 328 pp., $27.00.

Review by:
Oliver Turnbull, Ph.D.

Vilayanur Ramachandran is one of the most remarkable neuroscientists of the modern era. This is not because he combines clinical work with novel research, or because he publishes widely, and in the best journals. He does all of these things—but modern neuroscience can boast many industrious and talented researchers who fulfill these criteria. However, there are few who tackle the sorts of unusual scientific problems that Ramachandran confronts, or try to solve these problems using his delightfully elegant methods.

In this book Ramachandran has (at last) made the diversity and ingenuity of his work accessible to a more general audience. He seems to have required some help in doing this, hence the second author, an “award winning New York Times science writer,” according to the dust-jacket. The result is a series of clearly written and fascinating case descriptions of a diverse range of phenomena—from phantom limbs to hemispatial neglect. In a sense, then, Phantoms in the Brain is a literary relative of Oliver Sacks's hugely successful The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Indeed the connections do not end there—Sacks writes the Foreword to Phantoms, and a colleague appears to have suggested that Ramachandran entitle his book The Man Who Mistook His Foot for a Penis (the rationale for this becomes clear below, and on pp. 35-36 of the book). Despite the many similarities between Sacks's books and Phantoms, there are several significant differences.

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