I know I promised to talk about zombies in the brain, foot fetishes, phantom erections and a woman who died laughing, but the more I read V.S. Ramachandran's Phantoms in the Brain : Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind
, the more I realise it is impossible to even begin to explain such things without actually producing pages from the book.
The human mind is a very strange thing. Fascinating, but very strange. People who know me in RL will probably have been dragged into the debate over whether if Science is a waste of time as humans possess a limited capacity and flawed perception, hence the inability to understand the world as it is. If a person is built entirely out of hir memories, what happens when we find out that our memories are not to be trusted? (For that matter, I can tell you now that they are hardly reliable.) What happens if humans who are thought to be logical and rational are in fact, illogical and live in denial? (The latter is true.) And what happens when the "God(s)" who people claim to speak to them or see is(are) no more than misfiring neurons in the brain?
In his book, these are the questions Ramachandran faces. The cases he encounters are weirder than fiction. Patients who are downright deny the ownership of their limbs even they can clearly see said limbs attached to their body, patients who firmly believe their parents are imposters, patients who constantly see Disney characters at the lower range of their scope of sight and so forth. And he respectfully tries to come up with explanations for these cases, often injecting humour in the process. You have to respect the man. He writes with the aim to communicate and to connect rather, reducing as much technical jargon as possible*.
The man also quotes Shakespeare and Freud. The first is surprising enough since how often does one find the great bard in biopsych books. The latter was totally unexpected considering that Freud-bashing is rather popular nowadays. (But you have to give the him some credit. I think a lot of his ideas are nonsense and his findings hardly based on empirical evidence, but some of his ideas have their merits.)
Seriously. If you have some free time, pick up the damn book already.( science as another religion )*I think scientists, lecturers and critics (especially the lit ones) should read Randy Olson's commentary on Carl Zimmer's blog. It doesn't hurt, that's all I can say.