Hallucinations 1st Edition, Kindle Edition
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“Illuminate[s] the complexities of the human brain and the mysteries of the human mind.” —The New York Times
To many people, hallucinations imply madness, but in fact they are a common part of the human experience. These sensory distortions range from the shimmering zigzags of a visual migraine to powerful visions brought on by fever, injuries, drugs, sensory deprivation, exhaustion, or even grief. Hallucinations doubtless lie behind many mythological traditions, literary inventions, and religious epiphanies.
Drawing on his own experiences, a wealth of clinical cases from among his patients, and famous historical examples ranging from Dostoevsky to Lewis Carroll, the legendary neurologist Oliver Sacks investigates the mystery of these sensory deceptions: what they say about the working of our brains, how they have influenced our folklore and culture, and why the potential for hallucination is present in us all.
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The Neurological and the Divine: An Interview with Oliver Sacks
The following is an excerpt from a Q&A with Dr. Sacks published on Omnivoracious, the Amazon Books blog. Click here to read the full interview.
Mia Lipman: In Hallucinations, you mention that your childhood migraines are one of the reasons you became a neurologist. How did they help shape your path?
Dr. Sacks: My experiences go back to my first memories of when I was three or four, suddenly seeing a brilliant zigzag which seemed to be vibrating, then enlarged and covered everything to one side. This has happened innumerable times since, but that first time was very terrifying…I know I was in the garden, and part of the garden wall seemed to disappear, and I asked my mother about it. She too had classical migraines, so she explained what it was about and said that it was benign and it would only last a few minutes, and I'd be none the worse. So though I'm not in love with the attacks, it's nice to know that one can live with this quite well.
So that early experience made you curious about why this was happening to you?
Indeed, and there were other experiences. Sometimes it was just color, perhaps in one half of the visual field, or things would be frozen and I couldn't see any movement. So I think this gave me a very early feeling that it's only the privilege of a normal brain which allows us to see the way we do—and that what seems to be a simple vision in fact must have dozens of different components, and any one of these can go down. So it was a learning experience for me as well.
Speaking of learning experiences, you talk in the book about a period in your 30s when you did a lot of hallucinogenic drugs—
Ah, I thought that would come up. [Laughing.]
Of course, it's the best part! I especially liked your description of the results as "a mix of the neurological and the divine." What did this self-experimentation teach you about your field, as well as personally?
I can't conceal that my motives were sort of mixed, but these were learning experiences as well as recreational ones, and occasionally terrifying ones. The gain, I think, [is that] it's a way of revealing various capacities and incapacities in the brain, including, perhaps, mystical ones…I quote William James, who, after taking nitrous oxide, said that it showed him there were many forms of consciousness other than rational consciousness, and that these seem to be uncovered one by one. And that's quite an experience. I do not recommend it to anybody, and I hope my writing about these things is not seen as a recommendation. I think I'm very lucky to have survived them, which several of my friends and contemporaries didn't.
- ASIN : B0082XLY6G
- Publisher : Vintage; 1st edition (November 6, 2012)
- Publication date : November 6, 2012
- Language : English
- File size : 3280 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 316 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
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#287,946 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- #49 in Biographies of Social Scientists & Psychologists (Kindle Store)
- #74 in Epilepsy
- #107 in Neurology (Kindle Store)
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Dr. Sacks keeps his book firmly planted in scientific observation and speculation. He explains how hallucinations have given rise to art, folklore, religions, and how Western stigmatization of the condition has caused many people to think they are going nuckin futz. The author does a good job of removing the social fear associated with having hallucinations. It is mostly written in layman terms but having a dictionary handy was helpful for me when looking up a handful of words and medical terms. The book is full of personal as well as clinical episodes. Dr. Sacks covers such topics as Charles Bonnet syndrome, how sensory deprivation can be a trigger, olfactory hallucinations, Parkinson’s disease, psychoactive substances, migraines, epilepsy, delirium, near-sleep hallucinations, narcolepsy, Lewy body disease (the late Robin Williams was a victim of it), post-traumatic episodes, death-bed hallucinations, religious visions, seeing your doppelganger, out-of-body and near-death experiences, and phantom limb sensation for amputees. Dr. Sacks does not delve into the evolution hypotheses for why our body reacts in such ways. This could be that while they do understand how the brain is triggered to show hallucinations, there is still much to learn. He also presents matter-of-fact scientific explanations about people who believe they’ve had religious experiences. If you are a believer in such godly interventions, you ain’t gonna like the author’s report.
The late Dr. Sacks was a highly intelligent, inquisitive, gentle man. You will find no sarcasm or denigration inside ‘Hallucinations.’ It is a thoughtful exploration of a very interesting field. The book ends quite abruptly and was disconcerting. Most nonfiction works I read have some sort of summation but not Dr. Sack’s book. Despite that very minor complaint, ‘Hallucinations’ is wonderful. I learned a lot from it and will certainly read other works by the guy. He makes learning fun and helps readers to feel more empathy for people with such episodes.
"Hallucinations" is a fascinating book of what Dr. Sacks considers a natural history of anthology of hallucinations. It covers a wide variety of hallucinations through the eyes of those who have them and the impact it has on their lives. Dr. Sacks shares those vivid experiences with the readers but at times it can be overwhelming and hard to follow. This psychedelic 354-page includes the following fifteen chapters: 1. Silent Multitudes: Charles Bonnet Syndrome, 2. The Prisoner's Cinema: Sensory Deprivation, 3. A Few Nanograms of Wine: Hallucinatory Smells, 4. Hearing Things, 5. The Illusions of Parkinsonism, 6. Altered States, 7. Patterns: Visual Migraines, 8. The "Sacred" Disease, 9. Bisected: Hallucinations in the Half-Field, 10. Delirious, 11. On the Threshold of Sleep, 12. Narcolepsy of Night Hags, 13. The Haunted Mind, 14. Dopplegangers: Hallucinating Oneself, and 15. Phantoms, Shadows, and Sensory Ghosts.
1. Engaging prose, well-researched book on a variety of hallucinations.
2. Dr. Sacks is a master of his profession and a very accomplished author.
3. A very good format. Each chapter covers a category of hallucination.
4. A good introductory chapter that covers the essence of the book. "Hallucination is a unique and special category of consciousness and mental life".
5. Full of first-hand accounts and historical accounts of hallucinations. The accounts vary from the common to the bizarre.
6. Hallucinations among the blind. The Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS). "CBS hallucinations are often described as having dazzling, intense color or a fineness and richness of detail far beyond anything one sees with the eyes."
7. The effects of sensory deprivation. "There is even a special term for the trains of brilliantly colored and varied hallucinations which come to console or torment those kept in isolation or darkness: `the prisoner's cinema.'"
8. Hallucinations come in many forms including hallucinatory smells. "Hallucination of particularly vile smells is called cacosmia."
9. Misconceptions. "In the popular imagination, though, hallucinatory voices are almost synonymous with schizophrenia--a great misconception, for most people who do hear voices are not schizophrenic."
10. Interesting observations. "Music calls upon many more areas of the brain than any other activity--one reason why music therapy is useful for such a wide variety of conditions."
11. Parkinson's disease as it relates to hallucinations. "...perhaps a third or more of those being treated for Parkinson's experienced hallucinations."
12. Chemicals and altered states. "But drugs offer a shortcut; they promise transcendence on demand. These shortcuts are possible because certain chemicals can directly stimulate many complex brain functions."
13. Migraine auras, who knew? "She explained that auras like mine were due to a sort of electrical disturbance like a wave passing across the visual parts of the brain."
14. A fascinating look at "hyper-religiosity". "More than any other sort of seizure, ecstatic seizures may be felt as epiphanies or revelations of a deeper reality." A bonus quote of historical worth, "None of these is conclusive, but they do suggest, at least, that Joan of Arc may have had temporal lobe epilepsy with ecstatic auras."
15. Some of the causes of hallucinations are discussed. "...even a "little" occipital lobe stroke can evoke striking, though transient, visual hallucinations."
16. The impact of delirium. "Delirium may produce musical hallucinations." "Fevers are perhaps the commonest cause of delirium, but there may be a less obvious metabolic or toxic cause."
17. A look at dreams. "Dreams come in episodes, not flashes; they have a continuity, a coherence, a narrative, a theme. One is a participant or a participant-observer in one's dreams, whereas with hypnagogia, one is merely a spectator." "The "mare" in "nightmare" originally referred to a demonic woman who suffocated sleepers by lying on their chests (she was called "Old Hag" in Newfoundland)." Great stuff!
18. The trauma of war (severe stress). An important topic. "Such chronic traumatic encephalopathy, along with the psychological trauma of war and injury, has been linked to the rising incidence of suicide among veterans."
19. Out of body experiences. "Out-of-body experiences may occur when specific regions of the brain are stimulated in the course of a seizure or a migraine, as well as with electrical stimulation of the cortex." "They may occur with drug experiences and in self-induced trances. OBEs can also occur when the brain is not receiving enough blood, as may happen if there is a cardiac arrest or arrhythmia, massive blood loss, or shock."
20. Phantom limbs. Test this for yourself...very interesting. "Phantom limbs are hallucinations insofar as they are perceptions of something that has no existence in the outside world, but they are not quite comparable to hallucinations of sight and sound."
21. Links and a very helpful bibliography.
1. This is a difficult book to follow at times. Part of it has to do with the complexity of the condition but I also feel that Dr. Sacks overwhelms the readers with psychedelic descriptions at a frenetic pace.
2. This book is uneven in that that it describes the various types of hallucinations with a luxury of details (first-hand accounts) but the science though present is not as apparent. Granted this book is intended for the masses but I wanted to know more about the potential causes.
3. This book warranted a table that summarized the different types of hallucinations and symptoms. It would have been very helpful.
4. It's the type of book that after reading you are not really sure what you got out of it. Luckily, there are no tests.
In summary, a bit overwhelming and frenetic at times but overall I enjoyed the book. It's the type of book that after reading you have a better understanding of the wide range of variety of hallucinations but you are not able to intelligently provide details on how they differ necessarily. It's an interesting book whose strengths reside in the first-hand description of a wide variety of hallucinations. The science behind the hallucinations though present lags the same attention. That being said, I recommend it!
Further recommendations: " The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales " and " Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Revised and Expanded Edition " by the same author, " Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind " and " The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human " by V.S. Ramachandran, " Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep " by David K. Randall, "How the Mind Works" by Steven Pinker, " Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions " by Dan Ariely, " Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain " by David Eagleman, "Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)" by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, " Paranormality: Why we see what isn't there " by Richard Wiseman, " The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths by Shermer, Michael unknown Edition [Hardcover(2011) ]" by Michael Shermer, and " Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior (Vintage) " by Leonard Mlodinow.
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As with most of Sacks' works, I come off absolutely amazed at the convergence sought by him across disciplines- how he makes neuropathology shake hands with anthropology; makes accomplices of literature, poetry and biography, and the hidden shared rapport contained within his confiding patients' letters is indubitable; but all too often I yearn for an active editor who'd whip his material into a volume that packs more bite (maybe chop the material into niftier, more numerous chapters or make the volume leaner, more philosophically succinct). Sacks' outpourings here follow a familiar "template" in structure that regular readers will recognise and somehow descriptions of historical and patient's hallucinations reproduced verbatim don't always make for the most interesting of reads, beyond a point.
This is not to take away from clinician-philosopher's admirable patience at paring apart a lone symptom through analysis of preserved patient testimonies, personal experiences (I was aware of his drug taking phase from his autobio, but here the various "trips" very candidly reproduced find themselves wonderfully nestled in context) and thoughtful precis of legion of notable medical and non-medical figures with their little/big trysts in the domain of hallucinations, all of which do make this a compelling volume; just that to sustain my interest through all its carefree, connection-seeking, sometimes microscopic, sometimes kaleidoscopic ramble, I need more personality and more engagement in the writing especially when we are going to spin around ONE symptom for the entire book.
Particularly enjoyed the fact that there are copious notes and references which are very useful for further research.
I'd highly recommend reading this book alongside Sacks's article "Altered States" in the 27 August 2012 issue of The New Yorker.
The book discusses a variety of visual and auditory hallucinations and the various underlying neurological causes. Throughout the book the author distinguishes between merely visual/auditory hallucinations and psychotic hallucinations. In the former kind, the subject is able to recognise the hallucination for what it is, and the hallucination itself does not interact with the subject – the subject is merely a spectator. In the latter kind, the subject loses the ability to tell the difference between what is real and what is not, and the hallucination interacts with the subject (such as a voice instructing the subject, or insulting or threatening them). “Hallucinations” is very much concerned with hallucinations of the first kind, and the author emphasises that the person suffering from this kind of hallucination is of sound mind.
The structure of each chapter is roughly the same – the author makes heavy use of direct patient quotation, sometimes at length, before going into some detail about potential or established underlying causes. The author will often then discuss his own personal experience of hallucinations, with some amusing anecdotes about the effects of hallucinogenic drugs. I found this format interesting to begin with, and some of the hallucinations described are fascinating, but by the end of the book I felt the book became repetitious in the way it presents its information and found myself wishing for each chapter to simply come to an end. The author’s explanations of underlying causes are kept brief, and are usually filled with neurological/biochemical terminology which may confuse the lay reader – I often found myself skim reading these sections as I felt they did not enhance my understanding: At this point everyone knows different parts of brain are responsible for different processes which manifest in our consciousness, and that damage to these parts can cause fairly predictable and specific impairments, and I do not think this book does a lot to increase popular understanding of this fact beyond what is already firmly established.
An interesting feature of the book is the way the author will sometimes allude to how hallucinations might be a source of cultural beliefs such as ghosts, fairies and other mythological creatures, and how out-of-body experiences and transformed states of consciousness might offer an explanation for our belief in a spiritual dimension. These asides can only be conjectural, but I found them to be fascinating and was hoping that the author might elaborate further on these themes. However, these tangents are only ever brief and do not constitute a significant theme of the book. I think if this aspect were developed further the book would be more interesting, but whilst I think the author is a holistic thinker, he wishes to keep the book fairly grounded in current scientific understanding and doesn’t wish to stray too far into pure conjecture and armchair theorising.
Overall this is a good book which serves a useful purpose of bringing into public consciousness the fact that not all hallucinations are signs of mental illness, and that they are in fact fairly common. The author comes across as likeable and the book is eminently readable, but it is not without its shortcomings.
But hallucinations can be auditory as well as visual. People can hear music all the time or hear voices speaking to them or talking in the background. There's a tendency to think it is only schizophrenics who hear voices telling them to do things but the majority of people who hear voices are not schizophrenic. The author quotes many examples from his own patients and the case histories make fascinating reading. He also tells of his own experiences with licit and illicit drugs.
I enjoyed reading this well written and interesting book and would recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand themselves and the way their brain works. There are notes on each chapter, a bibliography which gives the reader an opportunity to read more on the subject and an index.