Thursday, March 26, 2009

Phantom limbs and Ramachandran's consciousness model

Following our discussion of various oddities such as the phenomenon of phantom limbs, I recommend that you watch the BBC series on Phantoms in the Brain courtesy of YouTube. Or, if you prefer the written word, watch Ramachandran's lecture on "The perception of phantom limbs."


  1. I agree with the doctor when he claims that even when a part of our body is missing there is still a "map" inside our brains that contains the body as it is before a part is missing.(Phantoms in the Brain). David Smith states "sensory or emotional states of which we can readily become aware in a moment's recollection or reflection though they do not themselves include such awareness as they transpire"(PPM 95). If a person still "feels" his or her arm or other body part even though it is not there could it be due to some "recollection or reflection" that the person is engaging in? The person may remember using his or her arm cooking or cleaning so, he or she still thinks that it is there. So, they "feel" their arm there even though it is not. This would bring in that the mind and body are interconnected and not dual since the person can still feel their body part even though it is missing.

  2. Riveting. What I found most interesting about this series is the notion that our conscious experience is a result of different areas of the brain working in conjunction. In the case of phantom limbs, while consciousness is very much present, it is actually a misleading guide to reality. Also, I think there is something to be said here about the relationship between consciousness and embodiment, and the way the brain quite literally maps our bodies. I think it proves that there is not a single place we can pinpoint to say "This is where consciousness occurs."

    I was a little upset by the comment that lizards lack consciousness because they don't have the same visual pathways around the brain as humans. But I think this might be differences rooted in definitions. It did seem that the way their brains are wired, Ramachandran allows that there is an awareness of objects in the visual field, and that it's more of a pragmatic awareness (as opposed to a conscious awareness maybe?). I think we have to be careful when talking about animals, because even the human embryo/infant goes through evolutionary developmental stages where we would attribute consciousness when with the same responses in animals, many would not.

  3. I thought this article was incredibly interesting when it came to describing this phenomenal experience of phantom limbs coming 'in and out' of consciousness. For me, when reading the descriptions of these phenomenal experiences there seemed to be comparisons in regards to lucid dreaming states.
    With lucid dreaming there have been many accounts of the inability of determining dream states from reality, much like the experience of phantom limbs. Does this mean there could be a similarity between these two phenomenal experiences? Or, as Chalmers would suggest, could this just be similar neural stimuli producing these reactions?

  4. That's something. It's wild how parts of the brain can overpower other parts. It seems natural, the corresponding brain region and ultimately bodily function have corresponding strengths. If a limb is lost then its corresponding brain region will be altered. So it seems we are closer to showing that humans are not wired in utero because the brain can make changes. It appears Dr. Ramachandran is doing a good job and he's quite a character

  5. One of the most fascinating parts of this article, in my opinion, was when the authors stated that, though the sensation of phantom limbs are most frequently experienced following the amputation of a limb, the sensation is also experienced following hysterectomies (with phantom cramps), amputation of the appendix (phantom appendix pains), and with phantom erections with paraplegics. The whole idea of phantom limbs baffles me; but I was made aware of the sensation of feeling an arm or leg before. I never even gave a second thought to phantom erections or cramps before. It's so crazy that the human brain is able to trick itself in such an elaborate way. It's like when a hypochondriac is so sure that he or she has a disease or affliction that he or she convinces himself that he or she has all these symptoms that don't even exist... except on a much higher level. If we are able to trick ourselves into thinking that we have body parts that no longer exist, it makes me wonder what else we might be tricking ourselves about.


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