Vilayanur S. Ramachandran
|Vilayanur S. Ramachandran|
Ramachandran at the 2011 Time 100 gala
Tamil Nadu, India
|Residence||San Diego, California|
|Institutions||University of California, San Diego (professor) and Center for Brain and Cognition (director)|
|Alma mater||M.B.B.S. at University of Madras, (Chennai); Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge|
|Known for||Neurology, visual perception, phantom limbs, synesthesia, autism, body integrity identity disorder|
|Notable awards||Ariens Kappers Medal from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences; The Padma Bhushan from the President of India; BBC Reith Lectures(2003); elected to a visiting fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford (1998)|
Vilayanur Subramanian Ramachandran (born 1951) is a neuroscientist known for his work in the fields of behavioral neurology and visual psychophysics. He is currently a Professor in the Department of Psychology and the Neurosciences Graduate Program at the University of California, San Diego. Ramachandran is also the director of the Center for Brain and Cognition which is affiliated with the Department of Psychology at UC San Diego.
Ramachandran is noted for his use of experimental methods that rely relatively little on complex technologies such as neuroimaging. Despite the apparent simplicity of his approach, Ramachandran has generated many new ideas about the brain. Ramachandran is the author of several books that have garnered widespread public interest. These include Phantoms In the Brain (1999) and more recently The Tell-Tale Brain (2010).
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Scientific career
- 2.1 Human vision
- 2.2 Phantom limbs
- 2.3 Mirror visual feedback
- 2.4 Neural cross-wiring in the brain: synesthesia and conceptual metaphors
- 2.5 Mirror neurons
- 2.6 Theories of autism
- 2.7 Neural basis of religious experience
- 2.8 Rare neurological syndromes
- 2.9 Capgras delusion
- 2.10 Couvade syndrome
- 2.11 Alternating gender incongruity (AGI)
- 3 Testimony at the trial of Lisa Montgomery
- 4 Awards and honors
- 5 Public lectures
- 6 Minotaurasaurus ramachandrani
- 7 Books authored
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Early life and education
Vilayanur Subramanian Ramachandran (in accordance with some Tamil family name traditions, the town of his family's origin, Vilayanur, is placed first) was born in 1951 in Tamil Nadu, India. His father, V.M. Subramanian, was an engineer who worked for the U.N. Industrial Development Organization and served as a diplomat in Bangkok, Thailand. Ramachandran spent much of his youth moving among several different posts in India and other parts of Asia. As a young man Ramachandran attended schools in Madras, and British schools in Bangkok. He pursued many scientific interests, including conchology. Ramachandran obtained an M.B.B.S. from the University of Madras in Chennai, India, and subsequently obtained a Ph.D. from Trinity College at the University of Cambridge. While a graduate student at Cambridge, Ramachandran also collaborated on research projects with faculty at Oxford, including David Whitteridge of the Physiology Department. He then spent two years at Caltech, as a research fellow working with Jack Pettigrew. He was appointed Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of California, San Diego in 1983, and has been a full professor there since 1998.
Ramachandran is the grandson of Sir Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer, Advocate General of Madras and co-architect of the Constitution of India. He is married to Diane Rogers-Ramachandran and they have two boys, Mani and Jaya. Jaya is going to Shannon Arms
In order to understand how the brain works Ramachandran has studied neurological syndromes such as phantom limbs, body integrity identity disorder, and Capgras delusion. He has also contributed to the understanding of synesthesia. In addition, Ramachandran is known for the invention of the mirror box.
He has published over 180 papers in scientific journals. Twenty of these have appeared in Nature, and others have appeared in Science, Nature Neuroscience, Perception and Vision Research. Ramachandran is a member of the editorial board of Medical Hypotheses (Elsevier) and has published 15 articles there.
Ramachandran's work in behavioral neurology has been widely reported by the media. He has appeared in numerous Channel 4 and PBS documentaries. He has also been featured by the BBC, the Science Channel, Newsweek, Radio Lab, and This American Life, TED Talks, and Charlie Rose. His book Phantoms in the Brain formed the basis for a two-part series on BBC Channel 4 TV (UK) and a 1-hour PBS special in the USA. He is the editor of the Encyclopedia of the Human Brain (2002).
He has been called "The Marco Polo of neuroscience" by Richard Dawkins and "the modern Paul Broca" by Eric Kandel. In 1997 Newsweek named him a member of "The Century Club", one of the "hundred most prominent people to watch" in the 21st century. In 2011 Time listed him as one of "the most influential people in the world" on the "Time 100" list.
Ramachandran has also encountered criticism from some neuroscientists. Greg Hickok (Professor of Cognitive Sciences, UC Irvine) has expressed the opinion that Ramachandran engages in broad speculations that are not supported by a rigorous analysis of the facts: "The question is whether the science that is communicated is legitimate, i.e., based on a rigorous analysis of facts (such that it can be taken seriously by bench scientists) or whether the ideas are just wild speculations spun together into a nice story." In 2012, neuropsychologist Peter Brugger (University Hospital, Zurich) criticized Ramachandran's book The Tell-Tale Brain as a pop-neuroscience book that provides vague answers to big questions. Ramachandran responded that "I have—for better or worse—roamed the whole landscape of visual perception, stereopsis, phantom limbs, denial of paralysis, Capgras syndrome, synaesthesia, and many others."
Ramachandran’s early research was on human visual perception using psychophysical methods to draw clear inferences about the brain mechanisms underlying visual processing.
Ramachandran is credited with discovering several new visual effects and illusions; most notably perceived slowing of motion at equiluminance (when red and green are seen as equally bright), stereoscopic "capture" using illusory contours, stereoscopic learning, shape-from-shading, and motion capture. He invented (together with Richard Gregory) filling in of "artificial scotomas" and discovered a new "dynamic noise after effect." He also invented a class of stimuli (phantom contours) that selectively activate the magnocellular pathway in human vision and that have been used by Anne Sperling, and her colleagues, to evaluate aspects of dyslexia.
When an arm or leg is amputated, patients often continue to feel vividly the presence of the missing limb as a "phantom limb". Building on earlier work by Ronald Melzack (McGill University) and Timothy Pons (NIMH), Ramachandran theorized that there was a link between the phenomenon of phantom limbs and neural plasticity in the adult human brain. In particular, he theorized that the body image maps in the somatosensory cortex are re-mapped after the amputation of a limb. In 1993, working with T.T. Yang who was conducting MEG research at the Scripps Research Institute, Ramachandran demonstrated that there had been measurable changes in the somatosensory cortex of several patients who had undergone arm amputations. Ramachandran theorized that there was a relationship between the cortical reorganization evident in the MEG images and the referred sensations he observed in his subjects. He presented this theory in a paper titled "Perceptual correlates of massive cortical reorganization." Although Ramachandran was one of the first scientists to emphasize the role of cortical reorganization as the basis for phantom limb sensations, subsequent research has demonstrated that referred sensations are not the perceptual correlate of cortical reorganization after amputation. The question of which neural processes are related to non-painful referred sensations has not been resolved.
Mirror visual feedback
Ramachandran is credited with the invention of the mirror box and the introduction of mirror visual feedback as a treatment for phantom limb paralysis. Ramachandran found that in some cases restoring movement to a paralyzed phantom limb reduced pain as well. Small scale research studies using mirror therapy to treat phantom limb pain and complex regional pain syndrome have produced promising resultsbut there is currently no consensus as to the effectiveness of mirror therapy in reducing pain. The applications of mirror therapy are still under experimental evaluation.
Neural cross-wiring in the brain: synesthesia and conceptual metaphors
Different subtypes of number–colour synaesthesia...are caused by hyperconnectivity between colour and number areas at different stages in processing; lower synaesthetes may have cross-wiring (or cross-activation) within the fusiform gyrus, whereas higher synaesthetes may have cross-activation in the angular gyrus.
Consistent with this model, Ramachandran found increased activity in color selective areas in synesthetes compared to non-synesthetes using fMRI. Using MEG, they also showed that differences between synesthetes and non-synesthetes begin very quickly after the grapheme is presented.
Ramachandran has speculated that synesthesia and conceptual metaphors may share a common basis in cortical cross-activation. Following Lakoff and Johnson, Ramachandran argues that metaphors are non-arbitrary. In 2003 Ramachandran and Edward Hubbard published a paper in which they speculated that the angular gyrus is at least partially responsible for understanding metaphors.
Ramachandran is known for advocating the importance of mirror neurons. Ramachandran has stated that the discovery of mirror neurons is the most important unreported story of the last decade. (Mirror neurons were first reported in a paper published in 1992 by a team of researchers led by Giacomo Rizzolatti at the University of Parma.) In 2000, Ramachandran made a prediction that “mirror neurons will do for psychology what DNA did for biology: they will provide a unifying framework and help explain a host of mental abilities that have hitherto remained mysterious and inaccessible to experiments.”
Ramachandran has speculated that research into the role of mirror neurons will help explain a variety of human mental capacities such as empathy, imitation learning, and the evolution of language. Ramachandran has also theorized that mirror neurons may be the key to understanding the neurological basis of human self-awareness.
Many of Ramchandran's ideas about the significance of mirror neurons have been challenged by neuroscientists. As Christian Jarrett points out in a December 2013 article for Wired:
"...a detailed investigation earlier this year found little evidence to support his [Ramachandran's] theory about autism. Other experts have debunked Ramachandran’s claims linking mirror neurons to the birth of human culture. The activity of mirror neurons can be altered by simple and brief training tasks showing that these cells are just as likely to have been shaped by culture as the shaper of it."
Theories of autism
In 1999, Ramachandran, in collaboration with then post-doctoral fellow Eric Altschuler and colleague Jaime Pineda, was one of the first to suggest that a loss of mirror neurons might be the key deficit that explains many of the symptoms and signs of autism spectrum disorders. Between 2000 and 2006 Ramachandran and his colleagues at UC San Diego published a number of articles in support of this theory, which became known as the "Broken Mirrors" theory of autism. Ramachandran and his colleagues did not measure mirror neuron activity directly; rather they demonstrated that children with ASD showed abnormal EEG responses (known as Mu wave suppression) when they observed the activities of other people.
In 2006 Ramachandran conducted an interview with Frontline, India's National Magazine, in which he stated that "One of the things we have discovered in our lab is the cause of the cruel disorder called autism.....the impoverishment of the mirror neuron system explains the symptoms that are unique to autism alone and are not seen in any other disorders...in short we found the cause for autism in 2000."
Ramachandran's claim that dysfunctional mirror neuron systems (MNS) are the cause of autism remains controversial. In his 2011 review of The Tell-Tale Brain, Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Center at Cambridge University, states that "As an explanation of autism, the [Broken Mirrors] theory offers some tantalizing clues; however, some problematic counter-evidence challenges the theory and particularly its scope."
Recognizing that dysfunctional mirror neuron systems cannot account for the wide range of symptoms that are included in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Ramachandran has theorized that childhood temporal lobe epilepsy and olfactory bulb dysgenesis may also play a role in creating the symptoms of ASD. In 2010 Ramachandran stated that "The olfactory bulb hypothesis has important clinical implications" and announced that his group would undertake a study "comparing olfactory bulb volumes in individuals with autism with those of normal controls."
Neural basis of religious experience
In a 1997 talk to the Society for Neuroscience, Ramachandran hypothesized that there may be a neural basis for some religious experiences. He stated that “There may be dedicated neural machinery in the temporal lobes concerned with religion. This may have evolved to impose order and stability on society.” Ramachandran described an experiment in which he measured the galvanic skin responses of two subjects who had experienced temporal lobe seizures. Ramachandran measured the subjects' responses to a mixture of religious, sexual and neutral words and images and found that religious words and images elicited an unusually high response. Ramachandran has also discussed his ideas about the neural basis of religion in a number of talks and in Phantoms In The Brain. He cautions that his ideas are very tentative, and so far he has not published any research on this subject.
Rare neurological syndromes
In collaboration with then post-doctoral fellow, William Hirstein, Ramachandran published a paper in 1997 in which he presented a theory regarding the neural basis of Capgras delusion, a delusion in which family members and other loved ones are thought to be replaced by impostors. Previously, Capgras delusion was attributed to a disconnection between facial recognition and emotional arousal. Based on their evaluation of a single subject Ramachandran and Hirstein hypothesized that Capgras delusion might also involve a memory management problem. Ramachandran and Hirstein speculated that a person suffering from Capgras delusion loses the ability to form a taxonomy of memories and hence they can no longer manage memories effectively. Instead of a continuum of memories that constitute a unified sense of self, each memory takes on its own categorical sense of self. Ramachandran stated "Studying [Capgras] patients may therefore not only allow us to observe the formation of new memories 'in slow motion' so to speak, but may give us insights into how the brain creates a sense of seamless unity from a lifetime of diverse sensory experiences."
In 2008 Ramachandran, along with David Brang and Paul McGeoch, published the first paper to theorize that apotemnophilia is a neurological disorder caused by damage to the right parietal lobe of the brain. This rare disorder, in which a person desires the amputation of a limb, was first identified by John Money in 1977. Building on medical case studies that linked brain damage to syndromes such as somatoparaphrenia (lack of limb ownership) Ramachandran speculated that the desire for amputation could be related to changes in the right parietal lobe. In 2011 Ramachandran and Paul McGeoch, MD, carried out an experiment involving four subjects in which MEG scans showed that the right superior parietal lobe was unresponsive to tactile stimulation of limb areas that the subjects wished to have amputated. The question of which areas of the brain may be linked to syndromes such as somatopraraphrenia remains unresolved. McGeoch and Ramachandran introduced the word "Xenomelia" to describe this syndrome.
In The Tell-Tale Brain (2011) Ramachandran speculates that mirror neurons may play a role in pseudocyesis (false pregnancy). He states "Much more bizarre is the Covade syndrome, in which men in Lamaze classes start developing pseudocyesis, or false signs of pregnancy. Perhaps mirror neuron activity results in the release of empathy hormones such as prolactin, which act on the brain and body to generate a phantom pregnancy."
Alternating gender incongruity (AGI)
In 2012, Case and Ramachandran reported the results of a survey of bigendered individuals who experience involuntary alternation between male and female states. Case and Ramachandran hypothesized that gender alternation may reflect an unusual degree (or depth) of hemispheric switching, and the corresponding suppression of sex appropriate body maps in the parietal cortex. They stated that "we hypothesize that tracking the nasal cycle, rate of binocular rivalry, and other markers of hemispheric switching will reveal a physiological basis for AGI individuals' subjective reports of gender switches...We base our hypotheses on ancient and modern associations between the left and right hemispheres and the male and female genders."  
Testimony at the trial of Lisa Montgomery
In 2007 Ramachandran served as an expert witness on pseudocyesis (false pregnancy) at the trial of Lisa M. Montgomery. In 2004 Lisa Montgomery strangled Bobby Jo Stinnett unconscious and then removed her unborn child with a knife. Mongomery's attorney introduced Ramachandran as an expert witness on false pregnancy. Ramachandran testified that Montgomery suffered from delusions created by severe pseudocyesis disorder and that she was unable to appreciate the nature and quality of her acts.
Awards and honors
Ramachandran was elected to a visiting fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford (1998–1999). In addition he was a Hilgard visiting professor at Stanford University in 2005. He has received honorary doctorates from Connecticut College (2001) and the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (2004). Ramachandran received the annual Ramon y Cajal award (2004) from the International Neuropsychiatry Society, and the Ariens-Kappers medal from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences for his contributions to Neuroscience (1999). He shared the 2005 Henry Dale Prize with Michael Brady of Oxford, and, as part of the award was elected an honorary life member of the Royal institution for "outstanding research of an interdisciplinary nature". In 2007, the President of India conferred on him the third highest civilian award and honorific title in India, the Padma Bhushan. In 2008, he was listed as number 50 in the Top 100 Public Intellectuals Poll.
Ramachandran is known for his engaging style as a public lecturer. He has presented keynote addresses and public lectures in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Australia and India. He gave the Decade of the Brain lecture at the 25th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in 1995, the Beatty Memorial Talk in 1997 (McGill University), and the Keynote Lecture at the 1999 Decade of the Brain meeting before the NIH and the Library of Congress, as well as the Rabindranath Tagore lecture at the Centre for Philosophy and Foundations of Science in New Delhi. In 2003 he gave the annual BBC Reith Lectures. In 2007 he gave a public lecture that was part of a series sponsored by the Templeton Foundation at the Royal Society in London. He gave the 2010 IAS Distinguished Lecture at the University of Bristol's Institute of Advanced Studies dedicated to the memory of his longtime friend and collaborator, Richard Gregory. In October 2011, Ramachandran delivered a lecture titled "The Neurology of Human Nature" at the 47th Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minnesota. In 2012, he gave the Gifford Lectures (May 28, 2012 - May 30, 2012) at the University of Glasgow.
An interest in paleontology led him to purchase a fossil dinosaur skull from the Gobi Desert, which was named after him as Minotaurasaurus ramachandrani in 2009. A minor controversy surfaced around the provenance of this skull. Some paleontologists claim that this fossil was removed from the Gobi desert without the permission of the Chinese government and sold without proper documentation. V.S. Ramachandran, who purchased the fossil in Tucson, Arizona, says that he would be happy to repatriate the fossil to the appropriate nation, if someone shows him "evidence it was exported without permit". For now, the specimen rests at the Victor Valley Museum, an hour's drive east of Los Angeles in Apple Valley, California.
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- Ramachandran VS and Hubbard EM (2001). "Synaesthesia: A window into perception, thought and language". Journal of Consciousness Studies 8 (12): 3–34.
- Hubbard EM, Arman AC, Ramachandran VS, Boynton GM (March 2005). "Individual differences among grapheme-color synesthetes: brain-behavior correlations". Neuron 45 (6): 975–85. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2005.02.008. PMID 15797557. Retrieved 2011-04-21.
- Hubbard EM, Ramachandran VS (2005). "Neurocognitive mechanisms of synesthesia". Neuron 48 (3): 509–520. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2005.10.012. PMID 16269367.
- Brang D, Hubbard EM, Coulson S, Huang M, Ramachandran VS (2010). "Magnetoencephalography reveals early activation of V4 in grapheme-color synesthesia". Neuroimage 53 (1): 268–274. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.06.00. PMID 20547226.
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- Oberman, L.M. & Ramachandran, V.S. (2008). "Reflections on the Mirror Neuron System: Their Evolutionary Functions Beyond Motor Representation". In Pineda, J. A. Mirror Neuron Systems: The Role of Mirroring Processes in Social Cognition. Contemporary Neuroscience. Humana Press. pp. 39–62. ISBN 978-1-934115-34-3.
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- Brain Watch,Dec 13,2013
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- Oberman LM, Hubbard EM, McCleery JP, Altschuler EL, Ramachandran VS & Pineda JA. (2005). "EEG evidence for mirror neuron dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders.". Cognitive Brain Research 24 (2): 190–198. doi:10.1016/j.cogbrainres.2005.01.014. PMID 15993757.
- Ramachandran, V.S. & Oberman, L.M. (October 16, 2006). "Broken Mirrors: A Theory of Autism". Scientific American 295 (5): 62–69. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican1106-62. PMID 17076085.
- Oberman LM & Ramachandran VS. (2007). "The simulating social mind: the role of the mirror neuron system and simulation in the social and communicative deficits of autism spectrum disorders". Psychological Bulletin 133 (2): 310–327. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.133.2.310. PMID 17338602.
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- Vilayanur S. Ramachandran (official webpage)
- Take the Neuron Express for a Brief Tour of Consciousness The Science Network interview with V.S. Ramachandran
- Ramachandran Illusions
- All in the Mind interview
- Reith Lectures 2003 The Emerging Mind by Ramachandran
- TED talk by Ramachandran on brain damage and structures of the mind
- Talk at Princeton A 2009 talk about his work.
- The Third Culture Scroll down for three of his essays regarding mirror neurons and self-awareness
- Ramachandran's contribution to The Science Network's Beyond Belief 2007 Lectures on synaesthesia and metaphor.