Summer Reading List #2: The Brain Books

Hello again my lovelies!

Continuing my summer reading series, where I give easy-to-read overviews of books I discovered over the summer, with personal recommendations. Today’s books venture into the realm of the mind…

The Tell-Tale Brain – V.S. Ramachandran

This book is amazing. Read if you have an interest in the brain, how it works, and modern theories on several neurological phenomena. It helps if you have a medical background because Ramachandran doesn’t over-simplify concepts, many of which are progressive and challenging, and each chapter is thick with information. (It’s probably a good idea to have a general gist of neuroanatomy before you tackle this book, because the diagrams in the introduction aren’t very comprehensive.) However, he makes a point of ensuring his book is accessible to the layman.

Main themes are consistent with the main foci of his research: phantom limbs and mirror boxes, synaesthesia of all kinds, autism, mirror neurons. My favourite chapters were on synaesthesia and autism. Synaesthetes are people who experience an overlap of sensory phenomena–for example, someone who sees colours when they hear music or experiences tastes when they feel different textures. He discusses the two types of synaesthesia, higher and lower, and the possible underlying neural mechanisms.

Autism, which is derived from the Greek work “autos” meaning “self,” was separately characterised and named (remarkably, the same name!) by Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger. They both noticed the same essential features of autism–the self-absorbed nature of autistic children and the inability to develop a theory of mind. Ramachandran puts forward his fascinating theory of mirror neurons being involved in the pathogenesis of autism.

In the last few chapters he also ponders the possible neurological foundations of art and aesthetics, and then delves into the myths of the “self”–describing how our sense of a unified, consistent self is much more fragile than we’d like to believe.

An absorbing book with lots of intriguing case studies. I’ll definitely have to reread this one.

Brain Rules – John Medina

Another brain book. This one is definitely targeted towards the layman, and overall I found it a boring read with good intentions :-P Medina talks about a bunch of common-sense concepts, like how exercise is good for your brain, how sleep is good for your brain, how male and female brains are wired differently, etc.

One thing I did learn is that it is physiologically impossible to multi-task, and that attempting to do so only drains your mental resources, as your brain expends energy switching attention from one subject to another. Now I try not to have too many tabs open on my browser, heh! It is a New York Times bestseller; it does have a lot of interesting bits; but it’s not very dense delivery of information when you consider the volume of the text.

Overall, a pleasant and easy read with a few good morals :)


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