A blind man who went on to write books as a result of the hallucinations that occurred because of his loss of vision. A woman who kept denying that her paralysed left hand was indeed paralysed. A man who completely ignored his left side. A woman, who was longing for pregnancy, develops all the signs of pregnancy including labour pains at term with one catch: there was no baby within. These are some of the mind-boggling cases described in the book “Phantoms in the Brain.”
It is a book that has been on my to-read list for quite some time. I finally managed to read this book. My interest in the book was largely due to my interest in psychology and mental health. But this book is not just about neurology and complicated medical terms ( well, there is that too). It is a book that must be read by one and all, medicos and non-medicos alike. It is a blend of psychology, neurology, philosophy, mysticism, literature and art! Mixing all of that in one book is certainly no easy feat, but Dr V.S Ramachandran, through years of research and practice has written it in a mesmerising way that appeals to laymen and medical professionals alike, and is guaranteed to leave any reader completely awestruck!
Such is the wonder of the Brain- even after decades and centuries of research by various geniuses there is a large chunk that remains a mystery. And even the so-called “proven theories” are not exempted from criticism and questioning. And Throughout the book Dr Ramachandran has encouraged the doubts and questions. As he quotes in one of the chapters “The world shall not perish because of lack of wonders but because of a lack of wonder.”
The Freudian philosophy, the principles of neuroscience and the viewpoints of the “Cosmologists and mystics” have been largely conflicting for decades. But even the hardest critic of Freud, the maddest genius of neuroscience and the most ardent believer of cosmology will not deny that the ultimate goal of all these branches is the same- To unravel the mysteries of the mind, to understand the working of the brain and to find a reason for the curious cases.
One thought that has stuck to me after reading the book (apart from the neurology that I understood so simplistically that the medical books never managed to teach me) is that the Brain is a very powerful organ. It can trick us to believing anything even if the world is constantly throwing proofs of the contrary at us. Similarly, one can also trick the brain into believing what we want. It may produce conflicting ideas within, but if we keep feeding that thought, in the end the brain will surrender and believe what we tell it, and act accordingly.
It also made me realise, that unlike popular belief, science doesn’t negate or scoff at the idea of a Higher Being, The Creator, and God. On the contrary, it justifies the presence of an Ultimate Engineer who has created this vastly intricate universe and an even complicated mind. That man has till today, been unable to decipher the mechanism completely, is in itself a proof that something higher is at play.
All the research in neurosciences has at least resulted in one conclusion that all our achievements, triumphs and disappointments are as a result of some interactions in the Neural circuit of the Brain. This makes us both significant as well as insignificant both. Insignificant because, it has proved that Man is not the centre of the cosmos and the Self is not the centre of the world. We are merely a product of our thoughts that has been translated by the neural circuit into actions. Significant because, the mere fact that Man alone has got the power to question his existence and unravel the mysteries of nature, itself puts us at a point of privilege.
It is up to us now to use or misuse this privilege. It is up to us now to decide whether we want to sustain or destroy that very nature that has given this power. It is up to us now to think if we are worthy of this noble power thrust upon us. And think we must, because We are but a product of our thoughts.