V. S. Ramachandran: Mozek a jeho tajemství aneb pátrání neurologů po tom, co nás činí lidmi

Apr 25, 2015

V. S. Ramachandran is a well-known figure in the field of popular neuroscience. To get a taste, you can watch his TED talks or listen to multiple RadioLab episodes he appeared in. Given how complex the neuroscience is, there’s no chance a lay person could understand any of it unless it’s presented in a simplified popularized form, like his book Mozek a jeho tajemství.

First I have to admit, that it took me just over a month to get through the book and I have finished it six weeks ago. My impressions are therefore not very well grounded (I just can’t be bothered to make many notes when reading dead tree format books) and a little sparse. After all, if you wanted a thorough review, you wouldn’t be reading this.

Reading this book was a struggle for several reasons.

First, I’m not completely new to the subject (at the simplest level) and therefore I’m not awed all the time by evertyhing and I find the detailed discussion of the fundamentals a little boring. I understand the reasons for it, but the style isn’t that good to grab me and make me forget it.

The second reason is the presentation of the author. All the time, we hear about science being a cooperative endeavour, building on the shoulders of giants, limits on number of recipients of prizes are questioned etc., but here Ramachandran presents himself as a neuroscience maverick who discovered (developed or cured) basically everything (phantom limb amputation using mirrors, unified theory of art perception and many things I already forgot). Even though a story is a great device to convey information and the success of an individual scientist always makes for a good one, I found it annoying. I’m unable to judge to what degree is his cockiness earned but I can’t stop imagining all the collaborators he leaves out. One could argue that at least people are getting the information from him, that it’s others’ fault they don’t stand up for themselves and they might be right, but it still leaves a bitter taste.

A lot of text deals with the author’s complex theory of art perception. I didn’t care much for it and really had to force myself through it. The cockiness reached its peak here - the author presented his ideas which were only sometimes supported by experiments, plus it was hard to distinguish between widely accepted facts, controversial ideas and hunches.

To add something to the positive side, the treatment of mirror neurons was really interesting even with its accepted or suspected implications.

All in all, I wasn’t very satisfied with this book. I might have been spoiled by better writing, I’m not a blank slate and the revelations don’t work on me, I’m sceptical to the lone wolf scientist story in 21st century. In the end, I would really struggle deciding whether to recommend this book to someone else.