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Hallucinations Audio CD – Audiobook, Unabridged
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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.
More About the Author
Dr. Sacks spent almost fifty years working as a neurologist and wrote a number of books--including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia, and Hallucinations--about the strange neurological predicaments and conditions of his patients. The New York Times referred to him as "the poet laureate of medicine," and he received many awards, including honors from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Royal College of Physicians. His memoir, On the Move, was published shortly before his death in August 2015.
Sacks' work has inspired many adaptations, including the Oscar-nominated film of Awakenings starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, a play by Harold Pinter, and several works by Peter Brook.
Gratitude will be published on November 24, 2015.
For more information, please visit www.oliversacks.com.
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Top Customer Reviews
Has this ever happened to you? It would be odd if it hadn't. Most people have had this experience, and experiences like it. If and when it happened to you, your first thought was probably "I must have imagined it." You might also have thought about telling someone else about it- but then thought better of it. Normal people don't have hallucinations, right? That's something that happens to crazy people.
But hallucinations are a near-universal phenomenon, and they're not limited only to those people suffering from mental disorders. In fact, the hallucinations of schizophrenics, which are usually auditory in nature, make up a very small subset of the range of hallucinations that people experience. There are a great many conditions, both internal and external, that can result in hallucinations in all modalities- sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. There are kinesthetic hallucinations that affect a person's perception of the position of their body, or pain, or the passage of time. For every perception, there are hallucinations.
Many, if not most, people don't report hallucination for fear of being labeled crazy. There's a very common, yet underreported condition called Charles Bonnet Syndrome, or CBS for short, that commonly afflicts older people who suffer from some visual impairment. The impairment can be peripheral in nature, like macular degeneration, or central, as in a stroke affecting visual cortex or thalamus; the important thing is that all or part of the visual field is damaged, or missing.Read more ›
It turns out that hallucinations are not that uncommon. In fact, I'd guess that most readers drawn to these pages will find themselves exclaiming at one point or another, "Yeah, that's happened to me, too!" But don't get me wrong; this book is not filled with the commonplace. On the contrary, anyone who loves reading Oliver Sacks knows that his books are filled with extraordinary and totally off-the-wall case histories. This book does not disappoint...at times it is jaw-dropping surreal.
The work is divided into an introduction and fifteen chapters. Each chapter covers a different broad category of hallucination and each category is based on a specific neurological disorder or cognitive deficit. Sacks believes that the only way to understand hallucinations is to read about the first-hand experiences of those that suffer from them. Thus, the book is made up almost entirely of first-hand accounts. Whenever possible, Dr. Sacks follows each individual case description with information about the impact these hallucinations have had on that person's life. Perhaps one third of these first hand examples come from Sacks' professional clinical case studies. Another approximate fifteen percent or more comes from Dr. Sacks' own unique personal experience (i.e., his experiences having hallucinations due to his migraine disorder or from experimenting with a large variety of hallucinogenic drugs and other substances when he was a young man). The balance comes from general historical or medical primary source materials.Read more ›
I'm aphasic. I had a brain injury at age 18. Before that, I saw every Word, every sentence, every paragraph I spoke or I heard spoken or sung, pass before my eyes in Times Roman font. Because my brother is schizophrenic, I told no one. What would people think of me and my Words? But seeing the Words gave me comfort from the time I was three. When aphasia ripped my "hallucinations" out of my brain, I thought would die of loneliness. (I very nearly did.) It took me six years to relearn how to read again; but the Words didn't come home to my eyes. I was forced to see the world as it *is,* and I didn't like it very much. Twenty years out from injury, while listening to Ian Hunter's haunting slow burn of "All of the Good Ones Are Taken," I saw a fleeting phrase superimposed upon the windshield. And then, I saw another. And another. My "hallucinations" were Home; and I was finally again whole. And here's where you say, "But she LOOKS so normal..." Grin.
The beauty of *Hallucinations* is that Sacks writes eloquently and draws one into the world of the hallucinatory experience. He wants us to understand the reasons behind the existence of these visions, these phantoms of the brain. There are some people who understand their hallucinations and function well while having them; others are frightened and cannot discern hallucination from reality.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
So interesting and full of examples, but no cures or fixes. Nobody seems to know how to help those with hallucinations.Published 2 days ago by Nancy A. Pontious
It's a good read, if this subject interests you. My only issue with it is the more you read, the more it seems to repeat the same message but with different examples. Read morePublished 19 days ago by Tony from Florida
Very informative and a fun read. I've enjoyed the other Olive Sack books I've read.Published 21 days ago by mark leonard
R.I.P Oliver Sacks. His books have always been fascinating to me, this one especially. He inspired many with his work and helped even more.Published 1 month ago by John S. Gardner
Well done. Gets a little, just a tiny bit repetitive as so many hallucinations are discussed and are so similar. But wow. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Amber Chappell
This is very helpful material, especially from an educational or external standpoint.Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
I did not know that one third of frontal lobe epilepsy seizures were accompanied by hallucinations of the religious type! Read morePublished 2 months ago by Ray Benitez