May 24, 2003 2:35 PM   Subscribe

2003 Reith Lectures. Neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, Director of the Centre for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, talks about a number of fascinating neurological disorders and the insights they provide into mental functioning.
posted by srboisvert (10 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The lectures are all very well done and entertaining; a surprising number of friends and faculty at my university have told me that they're listening to them. They're all extremely accessible, amusing and well worth listening to. A lot of what Ramachandran discusses in his lectures is very speculative though, which isn't completely representative of his earlier work. Some people like this, others don't, but as far as I'm concerned, speculation by experienced scientists is very useful for generating new research directions.

Ramachandran is concentrating on synaesthesia these days, which has been discussed previously here. I worked at Rama's lab in San Diego last summer as a research assistant; it was a great experience and I got to see all of his lectures for free. Rama is a real character and has an unstoppable flow of ideas once you get him going.

There was one time when I was working on a computer-based psychophysical experiment on synaesthesia and I was having some problems getting it to work properly. Rama then turned up at the lab, we had a chat, and he said he'd have a try to get it to work on the Amica.

The lab had this ancient Amiga sitting in the corner that you weren't allowed to turn off, under any circumstances, because we weren't sure if we'd be able to turn it back on again. The only reason we had it was because Rama used it for Deluxe Paint. So anyway, he goes and fires it up and within about ten minutes, has created a better experiment than the one I'd been working on, and it worked straight off. Pretty cool.
posted by adrianhon at 3:08 PM on May 24, 2003

Wow. This is amazing. Thanks for the link srboisvert.
posted by crasspastor at 3:29 PM on May 24, 2003

I've just been listening to these lectures - he is a very good speaker and I did think his material might be a good response to the recent Psychology has failed thread. The speculative nature is certainly apparent - particularly in the third lecture on art - he argues that the brain extracts certain features from the environment and that art taps into this by giving exaggerated, or 'hyper-real' versions, of those natural features. The stuff on synaesthesia and phantom limbs seems much less speculative because the effects fit so well with what we know about the organisation of the brain.
posted by jamespake at 4:09 PM on May 24, 2003

Can anyone tickle themselves?
posted by stbalbach at 6:24 PM on May 24, 2003

I'm halfway through his book, which talks about the same subjects with lots more good scientific explanations and lots more good anecdotes. I'm not enough of an expert to know if he's a good neuroscientist or not, but he's an great writer.
posted by fuzz at 6:50 PM on May 24, 2003

jamespake, I actually thought he was a good example of what the "psychology has failed" thread was talking about. Psychology failed to create a theoretical framework that could explain synaethesia, so neuroscience laid claim to the question. Even though Ramachandran has adopted some of psychology's experimental approaches, he doesn't seem to need any of the discipline's theory. Am I misunderstanding?
posted by fuzz at 7:02 PM on May 24, 2003

Thank you so much for that link!
posted by ltracey at 9:13 AM on May 25, 2003

Fuzz - the trouble is that people often have a very restricted sense of what psychology is - I wouldn't, for example, draw a line between it and neuroscience. In fact V.S. Ramachandran is Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and professor with the Psychology Department and the Neurosciences Program at the University of California, San Diego (from his UCSD profile).
posted by jamespake at 10:48 AM on May 25, 2003

Oh, and the studies on synaesthesia that he reports (e.g. the 'pop-out' effect for numbers) depend heavily on theory and methodology from psychological research - see this paper, for example - Synaesthesia—A Window Into Perception, Thought and Language (PDF).
posted by jamespake at 10:59 AM on May 25, 2003

fuzz - I would consider that cognitive neuroscience is a branch of psychology, one of the more interesting branches.

My dad started out getting his doctorate in neuroscience (with a pure "hardware" focus). Twenty-plus years later, he's doing research in cognitive psychology (pure "software" focus).
posted by tdismukes at 11:56 AM on May 27, 2003

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