The Mind and Methods of V.S. Ramachandran

8232In the first chapter of his book, Phantoms in the Brain, premier neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran quotes Sherlock Holmes: “I know, my dear Watson, that you share my love of all that is bizarre and outside the conventions and humdrum routines of everyday life.”

It was this “Sherlock Holmes” aspect of science and medicine – of exploring the unusual and figuring out how things work – that ultimately led to Ramachandran’s successful career in neurology. When he first began to study neurology, the brain was largely unchartered territory. Why is it that some people see colors when they smell certain aromas? Why is it that some people can still feel their fingertips – even when their hands are missing? For Ramachandran, a lifetime of mysteries was waiting to be solved.

As a child growing up in India and Thailand, Ramachandran loved the beautiful simplicity of scientific experiments. Put an iron nail in a blue solution of copper sulfate, and iron becomes copper – like magic! As a neurologist, Ramachandran continued to embrace a low-tech and elegant approach to scientific study whenever possible. When one of his patients still felt the painfully-clenched fist of his severed hand, Ramachandran used a mirror to fool the patient into seeing his missing hand and the patient was then able to unclench it and feel relief.

Ramachandran explains the “grandmother test” to UC Berkeley’s Harry Kreisler: “If an elaborate theory can not predict what your grandmother knows using common sense, then it isn’t worth much.” Thus, the litmis test of a well-constructed experiment is two-fold: first, it should be simple enough to easily explain it to your grandmother so that she understands it; and second, she should say “Wow!” If it’s too complicated to explain and it doesn’t interest her, then try again.

Learn more about the incredible work of V.S. Ramachandran in our video archive of his work and lectures. New programs feature discussions on neurolology and our questions of self, along with an interview with UC Berkeley’s Harry Kreisler. From mystical sensory experiences, to phantom limbs, to art – go inside the mind with Ramachandran.

Browse all programs in the V.S. Ramachandran video archive.

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