It’s clear that, where the twentieth century was for science a quest to find the grand unified theory, the heartstrings of the twenty-first century have tied the knot with neuroscience.

In the words of renown neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran in his latest book, The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human:

“Brain science has advanced at an astonishing pace over the past fifteen years, lending fresh perspectives on – well, just about everything.”

Rama, as followers know him, is arguably one of most significant contributors in the field, and the book itself is further proof the dawn of neuroscience has arrived. Indeed, neuroscience seemed to turn up like a tidal wave, uprooting old ideas and worldviews in its wake.

“After decades of floundering in the shadow of the ‘hard’ sciences, the age of neuroscience has truly dawned.”

Cartesian theory, the notion of the mind and body as two separate entities, for example, fell away once advances in brain research revealed the body and brain are inseparable: the body is not only part of the brain, the reverse is also true.

The book itself is a remarkable analysis of everything that relates to being human, from the origins of language to our relationship with our brain, art and one another.

The question of what it means to be human is one that has absorbed humanity for ages. Rama’s gift is to present his studies of brain phenomena in ways that intrigue and fascinate scientists and popular culture alike.

Offering a tender and compassionate view into the human psyche, Rama astounds readers with his analysis of the evolution of the human brain as neurologically distinct from any other species to include primates. The amazing capacity to reflectively think about our own thinking is uniquely human, as is the innate ability to focus images in our mind that can alter the structure of the brain, and heal the body, in the very direction of our choosing.

Among several overarching themes Rama explores, “the question of how your inner self interacts with the world (including the social world) while at the same time maintaining its privacy.” In his words:

“The curious reciprocity between self and others is especially well developed in humans and probably exists only in rudimentary form in the great apes. I have suggested that many types of mental illness may result from derangements in this equilibrium.”

The discovery of “mirror neurons” in the late 1990s by neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolati (Mirroring People, 2008) has since sparked ongoing studies of this phenomenon in the human brain. It turns out that humans are natural mimics, with an innate ability to project and feel one another’s emotions, and in the process, seemingly, to recreate ourselves from what we experience.

“The question of how neurons encode meaning and evoke all the semantic associations of an object is the holy grail of neuroscience, whether you are studying memory, perception, art, or consciousness.”

This suggests that empathy is an essential ingredient, one that facilitates certain dynamic interactions between self and other.

The struggle to balance the emotional dynamics between self and others, however, puts us on a challenging journey in which we must both differentiate ourselves as agents of our lives, on the one hand, and simultaneously connect in meaningful ways to others, on the other.

A neurology physician as well as a researcher, Rama has been called the wizard of neuroscience, known for fearlessly tackling unique cases, asking bold questions, experimenting with the improbable, proving and disproving his own hypotheses, and celebrating one epiphany after another.

His flawless writing style is at once lively, humorous and stimulating, and he addresses topics ranging from consciousness and the origin of language, body image and synesthesia, mirror neurons and brain structure, civilization and art, and more. Rama does not merely touch upon this wide array of topics, however, he addresses each one from every possible philosophical scientific view, displaying his broad and thorough understanding of his subject matter.

Careful to note he is speculating on findings, Rama also emphasizes how speculations on the dynamic structure of the brain can now be tested. Neuroscience has shifted behavioral psychology from a “soft” science of speculative inquiry into the realm of hard science.

The fascination with neuroscience is perhaps not surprising. Some findings support what poets and sages intuitively proclaimed for ages – a human being is a miracle waiting to happen – within his or her own conscious awareness. Love may just be the most compelling force in the universe if we go by what motivates the human heart.

In this astonishing book, V. S. Ramachandran reveals his scientific genius as well as his humor and heart for humanity.

Truly a moving, stirring, thought stimulating book this is.