Ramachandran, V.S. 1951-

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Ramachandran, V.S. 1951-
(Vilayanur Subramanian Ramachandran)


PERSONAL:

Born August 10, 1951, in Madras, India; emigrated to the United States; married, 1987. Education: Stanley Medical College, M.D., 1974; Trinity College, University of Cambridge, Ph.D., 1978.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Center for Brain and Cognition, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla, CA 92093-0109. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

University of California, San Diego, professor and director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, 1983—; Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, CA, adjunct professor. Neurosciences Institute, La Jolla, CA, fellow; Institute for Advanced Studies in Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, fellow. Trustee, San Diego Museum of Art.

MEMBER:

Society for Neuroscience.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Resident fellow, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, 1979-81; Reith Lecturer, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 2003; Rouse Ball Scholar; gold medal, Australian National University; fellow, All Souls College, Oxford; "Decade of the Brain" lecturer at the Society for Neuroscience's Silver Jubilee; Ariens Kappers Medal, Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences, for landmark contributions in neuroscience; Presidential Lecture Award, American Academy of Neurology; named to Newsweek magazine's "Century Club"; honorary degree, Connecticut College.

WRITINGS:


(With Sandra Blakeslee) Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind, Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.

A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Imposter Poodles to Purple Numbers, Pi Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Enigmatic Lives of Celebrities: A Compendium of Revelations, RoseDog Books (Pittsburgh, PA), 2006.

Contributor to books, including AI and the Eye, edited by R. Blake and T. Troscianko, J. Wiley & Sons (Chichester, NY), 1990. Contributor to periodicals, including Consciousness and Cognition, Discover, National Geographic, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Science, and Scientific American. Ramachandran's works have been translated into eight languages.

EDITOR


(With B.D. Josephson) Consciousness and the Physical World: Edited Proceedings of an InterdisciplinarySymposium on Consciousness Held at the University of Cambridge in January 1978, foreword by F.J. Dyson, Pergamon Press (New York, NY), 1980.

Concrete Admixtures Handbook: Properties, Science, and Technology, Noyes Publications (Park Ridge, NJ), 1984.

Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, four volumes, Academic Press (San Diego, CA), 1994.

Encyclopedia of the Human Brain, Academic Press (San Diego, CA), 2002.

ADAPTATIONS:

Ramachandran's work was the basis for a two-part series on Channel Four TV, England, and a one-hour PBS special that aired in the United States.

SIDELIGHTS:

A researcher in the fields of neuropsychology and visual perception, V.S. Ramachandran has written books and articles that explain how the brain functions. He edited the multi-volume Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, a work encompassing a wide range of subjects and offering facts and theories about psychological and physiological aspects of human behavior. In Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind, Ramachandran and New York Times science writer Sandra Blakeslee detail how his study of neurological disorders may lead to a better understanding of the brain's architecture and a new appreciation of how the brain controls the behavior of neurologically normal individuals.

Comprised of two hundred and fifty signed articles, the Encyclopedia of Human Behavior is a resource for both general readers and specialists. The book is divided into topics such as visual perception, problem solving, and free will. Ramachandran then divides the entries into subcategories and includes an introductory outline before each essay. Every essay is also accompanied by a glossary of relevant terms and a bibliography. The Encyclopedia of Human Behavior "will please most of the people most of the time," predicted James Rettig in the Wilson Library Bulletin. Rettig further characterized the book as both "scholarly" and "accessible." A Booklist contributor voiced a similar opinion, noting that "the text is clear and readable." Observing that "Ramachandran's academic credentials and appointments resemble the encyclopedia's scope," the same reviewer added that "the encyclopedia shows that he understands what it takes to present complex knowledge to a diverse audience."

To write Phantoms in the Brain, Ramachandran teamed with Blakeslee to discuss his research with patients who have neurological disorders such as phantom limb syndrome, amnesia, and anosognosia. In phantom limb syndrome, individuals who have lost a limb claim to experience sensations as if the limb were still present. "We are used to thinking of our bodies as our selves," explained Ramachandran in a Discover article, adding that in certain neurological disorders "something has gone wrong here that calls that fundamental truth into question." Patients with anosognosia have experienced strokes affecting parts of the right hemispheres of their brains. These stroke victims suffer from left-side paralysis but claim that they can still move the left sides of their bodies. These patients even claim that their paralyzed limbs must belong to others because their limbs are fully functioning. Such disorders and their symptoms may provide information about the brain and how it operates. As Discover contributor James Shreeve explained: "In a new theory, Ramachandran claims that anosognosia can help explain why, how, and even where in the brain such everyday denials take place and how we combine them into a representation of the world around us. If he is right, this theory may also shed light on the function of dreams, and even on the mechanisms of memory itself."

Laurie Bartonini, writing in the Library Journal, called Phantoms in the Brain "absorbing and enlightening," remarking that Ramachandran's "simple, elegant experiments to test these hypotheses are extraordinary." Although a Publishers Weekly critic commented that Phantoms in the Brain "sags in the middle," the reviewer added that Ramachandran's findings are both "fascinating" and "entertaining."

Ramachandran turns from specific areas of human consciousness studies in Phantoms in the Brain to a more general study in A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Imposter Poodles to Purple Numbers. In this book, he presents an "accessible overview of modern brain science," reported a reviewer in Science News. Ramachandran provides numerous examples and case studies from his own work to illustrate the various neurological concepts and pathologies he covers in the book. For example, he explains the case of David, newly emerged from a coma, who accused his mother of being an imposter when he saw her in person but whom he recognized with no difficulty when he heard her voice over the phone. Ramanchandran explains how damage to the neural pathways leading from the brain's visual center to the amygdala, an important portion of the brain involved in the processing of emotions, caused David's insurmountable confusion. He also delves into other unusual conditions, including synesthesia, in which patients substitute one sensation for another, allowing them to taste sounds or hear colors, for example, and achromotopsia, in which sufferers see the world not in color, but in shades of black and white. He discusses the physical causes of delusions and hysteria; the cultural determinants of body-type attractiveness; and how even small changes in a person's brain can lead to significant neural dysfunction. Ramachandran also proposes that brain research and neurological investigation could lead to answers to some of mankind's age-old questions of the nature of self, identity, and free will.

"Ramachandran leaves you marveling at how he does it; wondering how he's learned all that he knows; and spinning like a top from the effort of trying to absorb all the wonderful things that he's telling you," Richard Restak remarked in a World and I review. Gregg Sapp, writing in Library Journal, called the book "fascinating and comprehensible," while Restak named it a "perfectly marvelous book." Reading Ramachandran's work "is well worth the effort," Restak concluded. "You'll be entertained, provoked, amused and—most important of all—eager to learn more."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:


PERIODICALS


Booklist, September 15, 1994, review of Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, p. 176.

Discover, May, 1995, James Shreeve, "The Brain that Misplaced Its Body," p. 82.

Library Journal, October 15, 1998, Laurie Bartolini, review of Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind, p. 94; August, 2004, Gregg Sapp, review of A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Imposter Poodles to Purple Numbers, p. 115.

Publishers Weekly, August 3, 1998, review of Phantoms in the Brain, p. 65.

Science News, October 2, 2004, review of A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness, p. 223

Wilson Library Bulletin, September, 1994, James Rettig, review of Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, p. 77.

World and I, November, 2004, Richard Restak, "The Amazing Brain: Is Neuroscience the Key to What Makes Us Human?," review of A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness.

ONLINE


University of California, San Diego Psychology Department Web site,http://psy.ucsd.edu/ (May 8, 2006), biography of V.S. Ramachandran.