Phantoms in the Brain

What I liked about Phantoms in the Brain. The science. Neurologist VS Ramachandran investigates strange conditions including the phantom limbs of amputees, the delusional competencies of paralyzed stroke victims, and the religious epiphanies of epileptics. These oddities yield revelations about the workings of the brain and mind.
The sensations of phantom limbs, it turns out, are generated when the brain’s perceptual circuitry for a missing limb is colonized by brain cells intended for another body part. By understanding the mechanism of phantom sensation, Ramachandran figured out clever ways of retraining the brain to eliminate pain or accept the absense of the limb.
What I didn’t like: the last section of the book, a philosophical analysis of the attributes of consciousness. The connection to experimental science is much weaker in this section. It seemed as though there could be any number of ways to segment consciousness into N logical components, and these segmentations would be equivalently untestable.
What I appreciated: the book discussed the religious epiphanies experienced by some people with epilepsy. But it refrained from drawing conclusions about the validity of these experiences. It is welcome to see a scientist refrain from ascientific conclusions for or against religious belief. But Ramachandran commits a different and related solecism elsewhere in the book.
What I liked least: Quoting Indian scripture, Ramachandran uses the various bugs and gaps in the neurological system to argue that the experience of self and consciousness is an illusion. This argument is fallacious. Take as an analogy a software system that composed of multiple subsystems, each of which needs to work properly for the software to run. There may be some anomalies that occur with strange and unexpected input. But these facts do not somehow prove that the software does not work as intended under normal conditions. Similarly, the vision system is built from multiple components, and it is possible to fake out the system with optical illusions, but these facts don’t mean that vision is an illusion. The author is welcome to his beliefs, but they are not supported by his science.

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