Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Phantoms in the Brain

I'm in midst of reading this facinating book on how the brain works, Phantoms in the Brain. I discovered this book after watching the movie "Awakenings". The author, a neurologist, studies the brain from a case study point of view. The idea is that we can learn more about how the brain works by examining cases where it went wrong.

- Everyone hallucinates to some extent. Our vision system "fills in" information subconciously. Added to the fact we have a blind spot in each eye, which you can only notice if you close one eye, as otherwise the other eye compensates.

Just a few interesting examples:

- Phantom limbs after amputation.
- A women lost control of her one side of the body and her arm tried to strangle herself.
- Our sense of self. We can project our sensations onto external objects, even inanimate ones like tables. This could lead to an interesting look to the elusive psychological phenomena such as empathy and love.
- The different levels of human perception, and the different functions of the human vision system. A person can lose thejr primary visual cortex- rendering them blind- but a more evolutionary primitive "orienting" pathway in the brain still exists, such that they can still subconciously the precense sense objects.
- One part of our brain can be fooled while another one is not. For instance, "the size-contrast illusion" fools the "object" stream in the brain, but not the "how" stream (ie if you went to pick up the object, you wouldn't be fooled). Kinda like in Star Wars, "Use the force, Luke". Marksmen say that if you focus too much on a rifle target, you will not hit the bull's eye, you need to "let go" before you shoot.


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