Chapter 1 discusses a mental disposition called a “phantom limb.” After someone has lost an arm or leg, they are still able to feel pain that should be occurring on that missing limb. Ramachandran illustrates how the human brain is very adaptable. By using a mirror box, the patient can visually “see” the missing limb and change their perception that the limb is in pain.
Chapter 2 summarized deals with perception and vision and helps define how the brain differs between the two. Ramachandran offers an explanation using “Old and New Pathways” to illustrate the brain’s ability to adapt.
Synesthesia and the mixing of sensation and perception are the main focus of chapter 3. By looking at the anatomical differences and offering possible causes to the conditions, Ramachandran proposes the Cross Wiring Hypothesis and Cross Activation Hypothesis. Additionally, chapter 3 proposes an instance for some patients that the number scale most have come to understand can seem distorted and unorganized for others.
Chapter 4 includes an explanation to the importance of mirror neurons. If one human watches another person perform a task, the same areas of the brain turn on for both the person performing the task and the spectator. This relationship offers evidence for the progression of human nature and human behavior.
Chapter 5 discusses the two main categories of autism. The first category is sensorimotor and the other is social-cognitive. In social-cognitive it appears that the patient has a diminished ability to form relationships possibly related to diminished mirror neuron function.
Chapter 6 has a strong connection to psychology. Ramachandran explains two primary sources of language: Broca and Wernicke’s Areas. Broca’s Area is responsible for speech production whereas, Wernicke’s Area is responsible for language comprehension. As we grow older, our ability to learn new languages decreases.
Chapter 7, Ramachandran introduces the idea of aesthetics, and how the human brain responds to aesthetics. In turn, how aesthetics make us special, and how we respond and create art. Ramachandran claims that there is a universal principle of aesthetics. He clearly illustrates this claim with an example of how male birds of paradise are “beautiful” to the human mind-yet evolved to be beautiful for the female birds of paradise. Ramachandran lists 9 categories that the universal law of aesthetics can be classified under: grouping, peak shift, constrat, isolation, perceptual problem solving, abhorrence of coincidences, orderliness, symmetry, and metaphor. The author describes in detail the law of grouping, which gives us satisfaction when we group objects and make a conclusion about their relationship. This stemmed from the need to spot predators in camouflage. Ramachandran describes the law of peak shift as the brain’s tendency towards recognizing exaggeration.
Chapter 8 continues the discussion of the remaining universal laws of aesthetics. He discusses each of the remaining laws in detail and their neurology, providing convincing arguments and examples for each. Contrast is the concept of an object standing out, which evolved from the need to spot particular objects instantly in order to survive. Isolation is the emphasis on one single stimulus, versus the focus of many stimuli. Perceptual problem solving incorporates utilizing the brain’s problem solving skills, and using the imagination to fill in the vagueness of an image. Abhorrence of coincidences is the concept of finding the relationship between object placements. This explains that the brain likes to find coincidences between those placements. This ties in nicely to the concept of orderliness. The brain wants to find order and predictability between objects. Symmetry is an aesthetic to the brain because it mimics the vast amount of symmetry in biology. Metaphor is also an aesthetic because it allows for the brain to seek hidden meaning, and connections between objects-much like many of the other principles exemplify.
Chapter 9 focuses on the self. The final chapter begins with the discussion of consciousness. The idea of consciousness is broken down into two attributes: the quale, which is the immediate response to a sensory input, and the actual self that experiences the qualia. The idea of the self is then broken down into unity, continuity, embodiment, privacy, social embedding, free will, and self-awareness. Ramachandran uses many medical and clinical examples to frame the ideas of the self. His final remarks of this chapter explain that to be human is to be a species that wants to understand its own origins and figure out who is doing the understanding.