V.S. Ramachandran’s book is short and has enough mind-nuggets to make it well worth the read, although I do think that he extends some of his theories with a bit too much alactricity. Here are some of my notes:
- Capgras syndrome is where the connection between the visual centers and the amygdala (ie, emotions) are cut by an accident. “So he looks at his mother and thinks, ‘She looks just like my mother, but if it’s my mother why don’t I feel anything toward her? No, this can’t possibly be my mother, it’s some stranger pretending to be my mother.’”
- Chronic pain and acute pain are different phenomenon. Acute pain is meant to tell you to reflexively withdraw a body part, chronic pain is meant to make you immobilize your arm until it can heal.
- Synesthesia is where musical notes or numbers are consistently associated with a color. It is fairly common–it affects 1 in 200 people.
- He has a theory of laughter that it is nature’s way of signaling that there is no danger. I don’t necessarily agree, and I don’t see why there is such a rush to reduce all laughter to one core cause.
- There is an old and new system of visual awareness–one is unconscious and one is conscious.
- He falls victim to some mirror neuron hype, arguing that “around 50,000 years ago, maybe the mirror neuron system became sufficiently sophisticated that there was an explosive evolution of this ability to mime complex actions.” The evidence currently does not support this theory.
- He goes over some of his “universal rules of art”: peak shift, grouping, contrast, and isolation. This is one of the most interesting parts of the book, drawing on evidence from animal behavior.
- “It is well known that there cannot be two overlapping patterns of neural activity simulatenously. even though the human brain contains a hundred billion nerve cells, no two patterns may overlap.” This leads to the classic explanation of a “bottleneck” of attention.
- Three conditions that strange phenomenon must have in order to be accepted by mainstream science: “First, it must be a demonstrably real phenomenon… it has to be reliably repeatable under controlled conditions. Second, there must be a candidate mechanism that explains the phenomenon in terms of previously known principles. And third, it has to have significant implications beyond the phenomenon itself.” Otherwise it will not be accepted, for example synesthesia was once cast aside as simple deliria.
- Cotard’s syndrome: “…nothing in the world has any significance, no object or person, no tactile sensation, no sound–nothing–has emotional impact. The only way in which a patient can interpret this complete emotional desolation is to believe that he or she is dead.”
- It seems that he believes in temporal asymmetry: “Our brains are essentially model-making machines. We need to construct useful, virtual reality simulations of the world that we can act on. Within the simulation, we need also to construct models of other people’s minds because we primates are intensely social creatures. We need to do this so that we can predict their behavior.”
- If humans died immediately, which animal would take over the earth? Assume no nuclear fallout, the environment would be unchanged. He thinks it would be orangutans: “among the great apes, orangutans alone are reputed to display imitation of sophisticated skills… often watching the keeper and picking locks or even paddling across a river in a canoe.”
He says that his book doesn’t really start until the endnotes, which may be true but it was sort of hard to follow. This book had a number of interesting ideas, and has a low opportunity cost because it is short and devoid of high-fallutin’ language. I recommend it highly, you can find it here on Amazon.