Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks

We all have those moments when our minds play tricks on us. Perhaps we heard a noise that no one else did, or maybe we saw a figure that simply wasn't there. In Hallucinations, Oliver Sacks discusses these very real images which can be strange, off-putting, yet more common than we may wish to admit.

Oliver Sacks is a biologist, neurologist, writer, and a professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University. His previous books, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Musicophilia, are award winners and best sellers as Sacks is able to make difficult neurological and psychiatric concepts more accessible and quite fascinating.

Hallucinations is no different as the reader gets to explore a brief history of the misunderstandings of these brain images. As science and technology have advanced, we can now map the brain and have a better understanding of hallucinatory experiences and how they have given rise to folklore, art, music, religion and more. Rather than attempting to cover too many topics in one book, Sacks focuses on medical scenarios such as blindness, narcolepsy, sensory hallucinations such as hearing or smelling things, and what he refers to as "organic psychoses" such as delirium and drug use. The personal stories of patients he encounters are touching, often sad, and utterly relatable. For example, it is hard not to tear up as he tells the story of a blind patient who is able to "watch" life unfold behind her eyelids.

For fans of Sacks' previous titles, this book will surely deliver. You may also want to try Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Rethinking the History, Science, and Meaning of Auditory Hallucination by Daniel Smith.

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