Phantoms In The Brain: Probing The Mysteries Of The Human Brain (A Review)

by mo on Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Armed with a genius for unaided visual observation and inductive reasoning in an era of fine pixel resolution and gross computer subtractions, Ramachandran has been able to make significant contributions to the understanding of how the brain represents the body self. He has shown that the body image is a malleable internal construct and that perception extracts statistical correlations to create a temporarily useful model." (Forrest 2000, p. 841)

When I first came across this review of Ramachandran's book, I knew I had to get hold of. With simple visual tricks in treatments designed for patients suffering from phantom limb pain, esteemed neurologist, Ramachandran suggests the idea that, "body image is not anchored (or “loyal”) to one’s own body and can even involve inanimate objects" (Forrest 2000, p.62).

This then became the focus point of my research project – if simple visual illusions can render such intense moments during which one is acutely aware of the malleability of their conception of body self, then shouldn't visual communications be able to provoke this similar response?

Taking it to an almost metaphysical level, he then ponders the possibility that "the body is merely “a shell that you’ve temporarily created for successfully passing on your genes to your offspring” (Ramachandran, in Forrest 2000, p,75). This is a very interesting idea – however, not wanting to go into semiotics and metaphysics, I have chosen to steer away from this aspect of the phantom limb phenomenon in my research.

Some interesting cases that Forrest then draws attention to:

A patient with dissociation between her what and how pathways can interact with the world spatially but is “unaware of the shapes, locations and sizes of most objects around her” (Forrest 2000, p.79).

Charles Bonnet syndrome whereby patients suffer from vivid visual hallucinations to ‘replace’ the reality that is missing from their lives.

Mirror agnosia or the looking glass syndrome whereby the patient believes objects reflected in the mirror from the neglected side are real and inside the mirror.

Fregoli Syndrome (p.171) the patient keeps seeing the same person everywhere.

Forrest, D.V. 2000, "Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind", American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 157, no. 5, pp. 841-842.


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