Ramachandran’s Brain

...embodied in a glimpse behind the veil of Powerpoint.


V.S. Ramachandran made a frazzled head wiggle when I laughed at the sheer chaos of his desktop.


I really enjoyed his book, Phantoms in the Brain, and even though I have heard this UCSD Prof three times, I find it perpetually provocative of deep thoughts.


Some interesting tidbits on his ongoing work with:


1) Phantom Limb Pain - feeling persistent pain in the limb that has been amputated


The 1:1 topographic mapping of the missing hand to the face also maps to the shoulder (the two neighbors in the cortical net). So the remapping of the sensory cortex occurs fairly consistently with crosstalk to the neuronal neighbors. If you amputate one finger, the neighboring fingers feel the missing digit, and so does the face.


“If you amputate the penis, whether by cancer or a jealous spouse, the sensation maps to the foot, and some find that erotic.”


The mapping is “modality specific” whereby feelings of hot, cold, vibration, touch, dripping water all transfer with fidelity to the new region.


“The theory lends credibility to acupuncture, but I have not found a correlation with the specific organ map claims of acupuncture.”


Getting results with the mirror therapy with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). Acute pain triggers a reflex to pull away whereas chronic pain causes paralysis (evolved so as to not worsen certain injuries through movement). With RSD, you have to unlearn the learned distrophic pain to break the cycle of paralysis.


Some phantom limb pain is triggered when the patient sees someone else getting poked. The mirror neurons are like “monkey see monkey do” neurons, and are the source of sympathy and empathy. But we don’t actually feel someone else’s pain. With the phantom limbs, it’s as if they are “Gandhi neurons – the ultimate empathy neurons.” In each of us, our real sensory neurons veto the input from the mirror neurons and so we do not literally feel other’s pain. Not so with the phantom limbs. They need the visual input, but then they feel the pain. For one patient, he would watch his wife massage her own arm and that would relieve his phantom limb pain.


2) Synaesthesia Seeing numbers as colored or in a spatial line.


Not nearly as rare as we thought – 1 in 50 people have it. It's 8x as prevalent among artists, poets, novelists and creative people. Shakespeare was a master: “Juliet is the sun.”


“A word is just a penumbra of associations… a syntactic juggling in the head”


Dismissed as nuts at first. “If you say they are crazy, it means you are not smart enough to understand.”


Blamed on drugs: “The incidence does go up on LSD… and there are more cases in Berkeley than Stanford.”


Many cool tests to verify its physical "hardware glitch" basis: response time tests in spotting color patterns quickly, drops off with peripheral non-color vision, occurs in color blind people (really a wild effect to see numbers as colors they can’t see anywhere else), does not happen with Roman numerals (visual appearance of the number is key, not the concept).


Seeing days of week, or months of year as certain colors: the ordinality of sequences. “The Brain did not evolve to represent numbers, but it did evolve to represent space. Cardinality maps onto space.”


Suspected to be a cross wiring in the fusiform gyrus that has a genetic basis given its hereditary pattern in families. The necessary neuronal pruning is interrupted by some mutation.


Why doesn’t it disappear from genetic drift? Why would it persist? “They are the outliers in the population. They are more creative. They may be gaining, but evolution moves slowly. Now, you don’t want everyone to be that creative. For example, you don’t want your neurosurgeon to get creative.”


tifotter, born1945 and 10 more people faved this
  • tifotter 7y

    Synaesthesia has always interested me because looking at certain colors causes me physical (and sometimes emotional) pain, which is not synaesthesia, but reminds me of it. I have about 18 designers and animators who work with me, and when they show me a design with certain colors... if they're painful ones... I wince and turn away. They try not to be offended. Some even use RGB and pure magenta specifically to irritate me. :)
  • !MimosaMicheMichelle! 7y

    I was looking at this photo in large much earlier and I will have to come back tomorrow.

    One thing that confuses me: how can anyone manage to function in such a disorganized organization? Well, I do know some work best that way. Maybe the person needs to see everything in case he forgets some important file.

    Will read the long text tomorrow.
  • biotron 7y

    fascinating chaos. seeing that desktop held to scrutiny in the context of such an important presentation relieves the pain caused by my phantom sense of complete order on a desktop :)

    the talk of cardinality mapping space instantly reminds me of Daniel Tammet. i wonder if Rama has met him? i remember Tammet talking about multiplication involving placing two complex shapes near one another in his mind, with the answer given by an intervening shape which joins the two like a missing jigsaw puzzle piece.

    he was also shown Pi to several thousand decimal places on a ream of papers, where a one-digit error was deliberately placed somewhere deep within. he scanned several pages and, finding the offending digit almost instantly, shouted "what have you done to this beautiful landscape?!".

    the man also learned Icelandic - to a proficient enough level to appear in an interview on a national tv show - in one week.

    interesting clips from documentary here and here, and a good article from the Guardian.

    also reminded of Derek Paravicini - the musical genius who i may have linked to before on your stream. documentary on youtube - first clip here - 4 other parts also there.
  • Brian Braun 7y

    organized chaos
  • Tomi Tapio K 7y

    Thanks, J-man, will keep following.
  • Niels Heidenreich 7y

    I wonder what personal traits can be deduced from the (non-)ordering of icons on the computer desktop :)
  • Niels Heidenreich 7y

    And there's a connection from Daniel Tammet to Steve:

    He was actually born with another surname, which he prefers to keep private, but decided to change it by deed poll. It didn't fit with the way he saw himself. "I first saw 'Tammet' online. It means oak tree in Estonian, and I liked that association. Besides, I've always had a love of Estonian. Such a vowel rich language."

    (from: www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2005/feb/12/weekend7.weeke...
  • Leon Jacobs 7y

  • pegleg000 7y

    I'm still trying to figure out why you laugh?? Looks perfectly normal to me...
  • Reshma Beeranthbail 7y

    Oh, there I go googling again!
  • Steve Jurvetson 7y

    Heh.. which got me googling... I knew I had commented on this topic 3 years ago after another brain conference.... and that it had something to do with helveticaneue... and luckily I faved it (as google failed me)....

    I like the rainbow of colors in the title. =)

    “This one goes to 11” could be a good article. The mastery of evocative metaphor, in written or visual form, seems like a touch of synaesthesia to me. Great artists can tap into their internal cross talk, and synaesthesia is the extreme example of what might lie along a spectrum from rationalist to artiste.

    It also seems that young children are better at this than the average adult. Given the 10x reduction in synaptic connections in the early years, perhaps the benefits of crosstalk are lost in the carvings of maturity. Neural pruning seems like have a logical impact on crosstalk (and may relate to ADD and autism).

    So I’d like to submit an article for your fine magazine, entitled Celebrate the Child-Like Mind. I hope to hear back from your visionary editorial board about their tastes.
  • Niels Heidenreich 7y

    Hm, I don't see any helveticaneue there!
  • Steve Jurvetson 7y

    She is the green head in the Matrix...
  • Paulo Martel 7y

    Interesting. I have a friend who sees musical notes as colours. She has perfect pitch, and it has somehow connected with her synaesthesia. Seeing the colour makes her sure of what note she is listening to.

    I would be careful with the evolutionary aspects, though. Synaesthesia may be a symptom, or a natural consequence of the workings of the brain - more prevalent in some people that others, but is it a genetic trait ?... Is it separable from other aspects of brain function ?...
  • Gisela Giardino 7y

    I have a friend who every time he walks on a brilliant white floor and looks at it, sneezes.

    Is that a form of synaesthesia? :)

    I liked this:

    “A word is just a penumbra of associations… a syntactic juggling in the head”
    Dismissed as nuts at first. “If you say they are crazy, it means you are not smart enough to understand.”


    I "feel" internal pain when I "see" disonant chords being played or people singing out of tune. It hurts, really does, and certainly I see music. Not that I may consider myself a synaesthesic myself, but I agree in the idea that that among creative people there's an underlying over-connected brain, which can possibly go for this kind of apparently fun relationships.

    In humor and arts and any creative task, being able to connect things on the fly, apparently "random" but that have a connection for some thrid semantic element that connect both... is quite relevant.

    Synaesthesia is to me the epitome of the Metaphor.
  • Steve Jurvetson 4y

    So, how did you react to his flavors?

    biotron: we got a chance to talk with Tammet at TED

    Born on a Blue Day
  • Janet Barclay 10mo

    Your photo was the perfect illustration for a blog post about digital decluttering: organizedassistant.com/?p=33780
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Taken on October 24, 2008
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