Rama and the Brain

Other than molecular biology/genetic engineering, the field which currently promises the most revolutionary changes, not just in the world around us but also in how we think about that world and about ourselves, is cognitive science. Not very many people realize that over the last couple of decades, cognitive scientists have quietly been mapping the brain, figuring out how we think and perform the mental miracles that we do even in routine mentation. One of the most interesting figures in this effort has been V.S. Ramachandran, a man who has designed and performed ingenious experiments to show how the mind actually works. This is no mere theorizing, à la Freud; this is hard science, and the brain is shown to be a thing of extreme beauty. Rama, as he is affectionately known, delivered the 2003 Reith Lectures for the BBC, which have been collected into book form as A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Impostor Poodles to Purple Numbers. I have not had such immense pleasure reading a presentation of scientific theory since I first read The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins more than twenty years ago. Rama is a writer of sharp wit, and his delightfully wry sense of humor shows frequently in his lively prose. Not only this, Rama’s earlier book for the general reader, Phantoms in the Brain, is also a tour de force in expository writing, and I recommend that highly as well.