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Last night I finally got around to reading this week’s The New Yorker, which has a great John Colapinto story about University of California, San Diego neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran.

Ramachandran — who is known as the “Marco Polo of science,” according to Colapinto — is among the world’s foremost experts on rare neurological disorders like apotemnophilia, the sufferers of which have a compulsion to have a healthy limb amputated. Another is the Capgras delusion, in which victims of head injuries insist that people close to them are imposters.

In addition to his tackling of such conditions, Ramachandran is known for his distinct approach to neuroscience, which depends more on 19th century-style reflection than 21st century technology. And, Colapinto reports, his research has changed how neurologists think about the brain.

Here is a snippet from the story:

Ramachandran is one of a dozen or so scientists and doctors who, in the past thirty years, have revolutionized the field of neurology by overturning a paradigm that dates back more than a hundred years: that of the brain as an organ with discrete modules (for vision, touch, pain, language, memory, ect.) that are fixed early in life and immutable. Neurological syndromes, such as paralysis from stroke, forms of mental illness, and the perception of pain in an amputated limb (a phenomenon known as phantom-limb pain), were considered largely untreatable. But Ramachandran and other researchers have shown that the brain is what scientists call “plastic” — it can reorganize itself.

Note: Registration is required to read the full story on The New Yorker website.

DAVID WASHBURN

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