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Startling Delusions

Free Lunch For Life will soon be doing an illustrated series on weird delusions and syndromes.  There’s a lot that can go wrong with the brain, and I’ve always been fascinated by this.  Now, this isn’t just multiple personalities or depression.  There are delusions that affect people by making them think that their loved ones have been invaded by body snatchers.  Other delusions involve the sufferer denying the ownership of limbs, exploding heads, or the strong belief that they are the living dead.  Although, some of these illustrations will be humorous, we are (believe it or not) approaching these cases with the utmost respect.  One of the inspirations for this project is a man that I respect very much.

Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran

Neurologist, Dr. Vilayanur Ramachandran has distinguished himself through his work in the fields of behavioral psychology and psychophysics.  Ramachandran has a way of being intellectually engaging without coming off as being pedantic.  His talks and writings are accessible, but you don’t feel like he’s watered anything down for the sake of getting his message across.  In the Ted Talk video below, he discusses what brain damage can teach us about the roles and connections between different parts of the brain.  I think his work will continue to bring people to a better understanding of what goes on in the pile of goo we call a brain.

Here is this mass of jelly.  [A] 3 pound mass of jelly you can hold in the palm of your hand.  And it can contemplate the vastness of interstellar space.  It can contemplate the meaning of infinity and it can contemplate itself contemplating on the meaning of infinity.

What I found interesting, was his work with patients experiencing phantom limbs.  Sometimes amputees feel as if the missing limb is still attached to the body (phantom limb).  It’s hell for many patients because they will feel pain, tingling, itching, clenching, or flailing of the phantom limb among other inconvenient sensations.  To help alleviate this, Dr. Ramachandran invented a mirror box, a box with two holes side-by-side, and a mirror in the center.

The patient places their hand through one side, and the phantom through the other.  When they view the mirror from the angle that their hand is in, it tricks their brain into perceiving the reflection as the opposite hand, the phantom.  When this happens, their pain is relieved temporarily.  He had a patient take the mirror box home with him to practice, and it was successful in ridding the patient of the phantom limb and accompanying pain.  However, the patient said that he then had phantom fingers dangling from his shoulder.  All this, not from something that cost a few million dollars, but from a contraption that took about 3 bucks to make.


Ramachandran’s video is only 23 minutes long.  Watch it.  He’s definitely someone to keep an eye on.

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