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I recently read V.S.Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain. It is quite brilliant. I would really recommend it to anyone who prides himself of being a rationalist.

The book has several rare and interesting cases of neural (mal)functions and VSR conducts some ingenious experiments to diagnose these cases. Almost every case is a bizarre, seemingly incomprehensible neuro-psychiatric case and the experiments are typically aimed at disproving some ingenious yet incorrect Freudian Explanations for the syndromes and identifying precise scientific explanations using the known neuro-anatomy of the brain. At the risk of sounding like a stereo-typer, it is quite scientist like ūüėČ

Phantom Arm and the Inappropriate Pun

One very interesting syndrome explained in the book and this video is that of the Phantom arm. It is a syndrome that is experienced by people who have lost or had their hands amputated as a result of some accident/surgery. The syndrome being that they continue feeling sensations in the non existent arm, sometimes severing pain (sorry about the inappropriate pun) in a part of the hand that does not exist anymore. Hence phantom. VSR beautifully explains why the pain is caused.

What a hack by Evolution!!

Before the arm was amputated, it was found that several of these patients had their arms attached to a sling for several months (because of a fracture / severely damaged tissues). When the brain issued a “Move” command to the arm and the arm refused to move there occurs some learned paralysis. Apparently the brain looks for a visual feedback from the eyes expecting to hear that the arm is moving. Since there is no such thing the brain is forced to learn the paralysis. ( Quite a hack for something that is a result of million year long evolutions). And this learned paralysis is retained, even after the amputation.

Watch the video to see how VSR treats the paralysis in an arm that does not exist.

Identifying the  Separation of Concerns in DEBUG mode

Every case in the book was diagnosed fascinatingly. All cases explained were seemingly rare. By conducting a series of experiments on the patients, their oddness in  physiology and psychological behavior were mapped to the specific parts of the brain that had been affected. This is really the way medical researchers identify the separation of concerns in the neuro-anatomy. Sort of the same way how you would identify what part of your code is responsible for doing what? By removing some part of the code, and seeing what blows up in your application.

One more Pun

Thank God all my code has unit tests.

Non Atomic Entities and Functions Spread over Time

One great issue confronting OO programmers is that Objects are actually composite entities that take intermediate(unexpected) states over a time dimension. A reason why functional programming languages thrive today. The brain seems to be having quite the same problem. There are clearly 3 independent functions that moving your arm is composed of. a) Sending out signals to move it b) Responding with ack c) Getting visual feedback by seeing it move. If any of these composite behavior were to fail, you would acquire a learned paralysis. Quite a high risk situation.

Functional Programming getting ahead of evolution?

Immutable datastructures, pure functions and the likes seem to have surpassed evolution in achieving larger atomicity of functionality. Maybe its because we have not yet programmed anything as complex as the human body! But the possibilities theoretically exist atleast. I pride myself of my ability to understand Darwinian Selection and I am quite stunned why it has given us a chance to think we are doing better than evolution in coming up with functional programming! Maybe it is really this chance to think that you have bettered  evolution that is reffed to as mutation.

Befuddled as usual.


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