Neurologist V.S. Ramachandran looks deep into the brain’s most basic mechanisms. By working with those who have very specific mental disabilities caused by brain injury or stroke, he can map functions of the mind to physical structures of the brain.
V.S. Ramachandran is a mesmerizing speaker, able to concretely and simply describe the most complicated inner workings of the brain. His investigations into phantom limb pain, synesthesia and other brain disorders allow him to explore (and begin to answer) the most basic philosophical questions about the nature of self and human consciousness.
Ramachandran is the director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute. He is the author of Phantoms in the Brain (the basis for a Nova special), A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness and The Man with the Phantom Twin: Adventures in the Neuroscience of the Human Brain.
“Here is this three-pound mass of jelly you can hold in the palm of your hand, and it can contemplate the vastness of interstellar space. It can contemplate the meaning of infinity and it can contemplate itself contemplating on the meaning of infinity.”— on the human brain
“Think about what artists, novelists and poets have in common: the ability to engage in metaphorical thinking, linking seemingly unrelated ideas, such as, ‘It is the east, and Juliet is the Sun.’”
“There are 100 billion neurons in the adult human brain, and each neuron makes something like 1,000 to 10,000 contacts with other neurons in the brain. Based on this, people have calculated that the number of permutations and combinations of brain activity exceeds the number of elementary particles in the universe.”
“Here is a neuron that fires when I reach and grab something, but it also fires when I watch Joe reaching and grabbing something. … It’s as though this neuron is adopting the other person’s point of view.”
“A polar bear, to evolve a coat, will take thousands of generations, maybe 100,000 years. A human being, a child, can just watch its parent kill another polar bear, and skin it and put the skin on its body, fur on the body, and learn it in one step.”
“The imitation of complex skills is what we call culture and is the basis of civilization.”
“There is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are, in fact, connected not just via Facebook and Internet, you’re actually quite literally connected by your neurons.”