This week’s TED talk comes from VS Ramachandran, who is Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and Distinguished Professor with the Psychology Department and Neurosciences Program at UC San Diego. I first became aware of Dr. Ramachandran, as I’m sure many others did, when I read his fascinating book Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind. He has written several other books as well and I am particularly interested in his most latest work, The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human, so you may see a review of that on this blog at some point.

Ramachandran is an MD, PhD who’s research is focused on using patients with neurological disorders to understand normal brain function. In this TED talk, he talks about three patients with different syndromes (Capgras delusion, phantom pain, synesthesia) and how understanding them has either led to therapy or a better understanding of mental connections. (I’m not a neurologist, but I would gather that calling synesthesia a disorder or disease would be a no-no, from the few people I know who have it, but that’s for others to debate).

I enjoyed the talk immensely. Ramachandran is a great speaker and his work is on a clearly fascinating subject manner. In addition, the way he goes about discovery is akin to solving a murder mystery and often involves cheap or non-modern equipment (which gives him a sort of MacGyver feel, I suppose). His path of discovery makes for good and informative story-telling.

My only beef was one statement he made early on in the talk when he called neurons “little wisps of protoplasm.” Not quite. The molecular and cellular biologist within me cringed at that description. Yes, there’s brilliant and beautiful complexity at the level of the brain that he studies, but neurons themselves are pretty darn complex too. This can only add to the story.