The Department of Neurology, NIMS, in association with the World Federation of Neurology, (Aphasia and Cognitive Disorders Research Group) , and ARDSI Hyderabad Deccan organised a ‘Teaching Course in Cognitive Neurology’ organize on December 13th and 14th 2010. At the conclusion of the course was the oration of Prof. V.S. Ramachandran – From Apes to Angels; The Neurology of Human Nature.
Prof. Subhash Kaul initiated the proceedings with an introduction to the distinguished speaker, Prof. V.S. Ramachandran. Prof. Kaul also gave an account of the Dr. M.S. Sanjeevi Rao Oration Series in Neurology held at NIMS, the present lecture by V.S. Ramachandran being the sixteenth in these series.
The chairperson Dr. Gaurie Devi and Dr. Raghav Reddy welcomed
Prof. Ramachandran. Dr Gaurie Devi provided her perspectives on
Prof. Ramachandran’s notable contributions to the field of Neurology. Dr Raghav Reddy gave a personal account of the beginnings of the Dr. M.S. Sanjeevi Rao Oration Series in Neurology.
An introduction to Prof. V.S. Ramacandran
V.S. Ramachandran is Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, Distinguished Professor at the University of California, San Diego, and Adjunct Professor of Biology at the Salk Institute. Prof. Ramachandran trained as a physician in Stanley Medical College, Madras, and subsequently went on to obtain a Ph.D. on a scholarship from Trinity College at the University of Cambridge,
Ramachandran’s early work was on visual perception but he is best known for his
experiments in behavioral neurology which , despite their extreme simplicity , have had
a profound impact on the way we think about the brain. He has been called “The
Marco Polo of neuroscience” by Richard Dawkins and “The modern Paul Broca; who
opened up the modern scientific study of the brain” by Nobel laureate Eric Kandel.
In 2005 he was awarded the Henry Dale Medal and elected to an honorary life
fellowship by the Royal Institution of Great Britain. His other honours and awards
include a fellowship from All Souls College , two honorary doctorates, including one
from IIT Chennai, the annual Ramon Y Cajal award from the International
Neuropsychiatry Society., and the Ariens- Kappers medal from the Royal Nederlands
Academy of Sciences. In 2003 he gave the annual BBC Reith lectures , the very first of
which was given by Bertrand Russell in 1949.
In 1995 he gave the Decade of the Brain Lecture at the 25th annual (Silver Jubilee)
meeting of the Society for neuroscience. Most recently the President of India conferred on him the honorific title , Padma Bhushan . And he gave the annual Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial lecture at the Teen Murthy Bhawan at the invitation of Smt Sonia Gandhi and Dr Karan Singh.
His much acclaimed book PHANTOMS IN THE BRAIN formed the basis of a two hour
PBS special. His book ‘The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest For What Makes Us Human’ unveils a wealth of clues into the deepest mysteries of the human brain. He has appeared on the Charlie rose show and NEWSWEEK magazine named him a member of the “Century Club”; one of the 100 most important people to watch in this century.
Summary of Prof. V.S. Ramachandran’s lecture – From Apes to Angels; The Neurology of Human Nature.
Prof. Ramachandran began his lecture by observing “how can a three pound mass of jelly that we can hold in our palm imagine angles, contemplate the meaning of infinity, and even question its place in the cosmos?”During the talk, Prof. Ramachandran repeatedly drew upon his simple yet ingenious experiments in phantom limbs, synesthesia, and autism to highlight how the human brain’s amazing capacity for change may have shaped the course of our evolutionary and cultural evolution – the journey from apes to angels. Another key message from the oration was how the study of cognitive disorders is essential to our comprehensive understanding of how the normal brain works and its evolution to complex structure that it is. It also underscores the fact that many disorders have anatomical, neurological basis as opposed to earlier Freudian interpretations. This assumed greater importance against the backdrop of the Cognistive Disorders course that just concluded.
Prof. Ramachandran spoke of how experiments and research in phantom limbs experienced by many amputees revealed the plastic nature of the brain by showing how even the basic sensory maps in the adult human brain can change over distances of several centimeters. He went to explain his simple setups using ordinary mirrors to mobilize paralyzed phantom limbs and reduce phantom pain.
Prof. Ramachandran introduced the topic of Synesthesia which is the strange blending of the senses that some people experience as a result of unusual brain wiring. Prof. Ramachandran explained how synesthesia opens a window into the genes and brain connectivity that make some people exceptionally creative, and may hold clues about what makes us such a profoundly creative species.
Prof. Ramachandran lastly spoke about recent research into a type of nerve cells called mirror neurons which may lie at the heart of our ability to adopt to each other’s point of view and empathize with one another. Human mirror neurons appear to be the key to our attainment of full-fledged culture.