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The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales Paperback – April 2, 1998
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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Clarence E. Olsen St. Louis Post-Dispatch A provocative introduction to the marvels of the human mind...
Noel Perrin Chicago Sun-Times Dr. Sacks's best book.... One sees a wise, compassionate and very literate mind at work in these 20 stories, nearly all remarkable, and many the kind that restore one's faith in humanity.
New York Magazine Dr. Sacks's most absorbing book.... His tales are so compelling that many of them serve as eerie metaphors not only for the condition of modern medicine but of modern man.
About the Author
Oliver Sacks was born in London and educated in London, Oxford, California, and New York. He is professor of clinical neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is the author of many books, including Awakenings and A Leg to Stand On.
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The book consists of four parts:
4) The World of the Simple
Each section relates to a different set of neurological problems resulting in a mental disorder.
1) In the "Losses" the author describes nine cases.
"Neurology's favourite word is 'deficit', denoting an impariment or incapacity of neurological function: loss of vision, loss dexterity, loss of identity and myriad other lacks and losses of specific functions (or faculties)."
2) In the "Execess" find five "stories".
"What then of the opposite - an execess or superabundance of functions?"
"... we consider their excesses - not amnesia, but hypermnesia; not agnosia, but hypergnosia; and all the other 'hypers' we can imagine."
3) The chapter "Transports" describes six cases.
"...'transports' - often of poignant intensity, and shot through with personal feeling and meaning - tend to be seen, like drimes, as psychical: as a manifestation, perhaps, of unconscious or preconcious activity..."
"...to be seen as psychoses, or to be brodcast as religious revelations, rather than brought to physicians."
4) And at the end of "The World of the Simple" (four "stories"). Dr. Sacks describes cases of people whose neurological disorders outfitted with extraordinary abilities, such as "seeing the numbers," eidetic memory, an excellent sense of smell, etc. (Ie. brilliant savants).
In his book, Dr. Sacks often refers to the study of well-known Russian psychologist A. R. Luria.
Dr. Sacks style of reasoning, not everyone will like it. Besides, there are many similar books, though written from a different perspective than neurological such as "Tales from the Couch: A Clinical Psychologist's True Stories of Psychopathology" by Dr. Bob Wendorf.
1. The human brain is not some sort of organ separate from our soul/consciousness/self. It IS our consciousness. When it gets changed, we are changed. I think a lot of people implicitly think of the brain as just something that memorizes dates and facts for school, and don't really think of it as the core of their self.
2. The brain, while impressive, is not really a truthful measurement machine. In reality, it's kind of slapped together from a bunch of co-processors and self delusion to make us think our senses are telling us the true story of the world. If one of those co-processors is damaged, weird stuff happens. For example, the title story. The brain does not observe impartially. Human faces are not processed in the same way that hats are processed. If that part of the brain is damaged, then one can, indeed, mistake their wife for a hat.
One minor nitpick I can think of is that the author spends a lot of time grandly editorializing about the philosophical implications of the stories after telling each one. I would have preferred to keep this a bit more minimal and let the stories speak for themselves - they are full enough without him pointing it out. Another thing that personally kind of puts me off is the fact that the whole book is predicated on the Freud/Jung school of psychology, which I think too often was not really based in observation and scientific method. I am sure you can find all sorts of half-truths and unsupported claims in the book if you really start to dig into and research the stories. Still, it makes for great reading.
And that's the thing; this is chiefly a pop-psychology book. No matter the minor flaws in writing, or patchy science, or flawed observation, it doesn't strongly detract from the central ideas of the book. I would consider this book one of the few universally important books I've read, because the stories themselves cut so close to the core of our life experiences. Not just in the obvious ways (ex. trying to explain to a child why Alzheimer's disease is affecting their grandfather), but also in understanding why we are the way we are.
Sorry, I just realized I made myself guilty of "grandly editorializing about the philosophical implications of the stories"... It's hard not to do!