** The Tell-Tale Brain by V.S. Ramachandran

I feel a bit sheepish admitting that I did not much like The Tell-Tale Brain, despite the subject matter(our brains) and the accolades from assorted luminaries on the book cover, so I feel I have to come up with specific concerns rather than a general lament. Here we go:

1. The book alternates between technical descriptions of brain functions and grandiose theories. For the former, we get intricate descriptions of how V4 and AG work with IT (real acronyms, for parts of the brain that probably never interact with each other, but you get the idea), which I just could not follow, did not want to follow, and eventually gave up on.

2. Moving on to the grandiose theories, I’m inclined to trust the author when he talks about V4 and AG, even if I don’t remember what they are, but his theory of art? Isn’t he a little presumptuous about the scope of his oeuvre (his word, alas, from page xii of the preface)?

3. And then there are the patients. There are many of them, all affected by mysterious and often dreadful handicaps, which lead to interesting discoveries of what V4 and AG are up to. Fair enough, but I would have liked to discern a little more human concern for these poor people. Oliver Sacks, who is one of the luminaries praising this book, is much more adept in this department.

I could go on, and note the nerdy and borderline inappropriately sexist humor, but I may be overly sensitive to that. On a positive note, I did enjoy a wonderful quote the author notes, from Francis Crick, “God is a hacker, not an engineer.” What little I understood of the technical descriptions in the book certainly bolsters this belief.

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1 Comment

Filed under Non fiction

One response to “** The Tell-Tale Brain by V.S. Ramachandran

  1. Danielle

    So, I googled the author’s name with the word “sexism” to see how well-protected his reputation is (answer: very, not one peep of problematic behavior). It may be of interest to you (or was interesting when you wrote this review a million years ago) to know that you were not being “oversensitive” with respect to his sexist references in the book: he has such a horrible reputation with female grad students (even while writing eloquently about sexism theoretically) that I’ve independently been warned about him by different women. He apparently gave a talk once with pictures of women’s bodies on the slides for no reason but background objectification, which (I’m told) he proceeded to gesture to as he talked about unrelated neuroscience stuff (some people walked out – this was supposed to be a professional conference). He probably made it related somehow, but … wtf, seriously. There are other horror stories (dropping chalk and having his female grad student bend over in front a class to pick it up, trying to prevent a female grad student from graduating), but…whatever, not worth spelling out. His male grad students seem to love him. 😉 So, in the context of his behavior in the “real world” those are just warning signs that you correctly picked up on.

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