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Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks
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Hallucinations (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Oliver Sacks

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524None19,171 (3.58)22
Member:Scrabblenut
Title:Hallucinations
Authors:Oliver Sacks
Info:Knopf Canada (2012), Hardcover, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:**
Tags:non-fiction

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Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks (2012)

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» See also 22 mentions

English (23)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (25)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
Ho ritrovato un Oliver Sacks di quelli che mi piacciono di più. Sarà per la mia formazione scientifica, a me piace molto quando Sacks si addentra un po' di più nel tecnico, anche se la 'magia' dei suoi libri è poi quella di rapportare questa tecnica alle persone. Ho ritrovato molto del Sacks tecnico dei suoi primi due libri che ho letto, Risvegli ed Emicrania. Ma c'è comunque un intero capitolo autobiografico, stati alterati, in cui Sacks svela in maniera estremamente minuziosa ma mai noiosa, con occhio clinico eppure umano, la sua non superficiale esperienza con le droghe in relazione alle allucinazioni. Una delle cose che più mi piace in questo libro è che Sacks riesce a inquadrare nelle manifestazioni di allucinazioni tante cose che invece in tanti tendiamo ad attribuire al divino, al soprannaturale, ad esperienza mistiche. Inquadra nelle manifestazioni allucinatorie le voci interiori che anche le persone normali in situazioni estreme possono sentire. Esisterà il divino, il soprannaturale, ma non è pervasivo come tendiamo a credere. ( )
  LdiBi | Jan 3, 2014 |
Updated: I accidentally deleted this review, so re-posting. I must've been Hallucinating.

Herm, well. Disappointing. It was just so...clinical. I guess, what did I expect? Apparently, neuroscientists have figured out that hallucinations are triggered by parts of the brain being over or under stimulated. Thanks for that.

The most interesting tidbit to me within the book is that there is a scientist named Dominic ffytche (yes, lower case). It kind of freaked me out every time I read his name. Dominic ffytche. How is it possible someone could have a last name that isn't capitalized? And a double f? What next, someone with the same first and middle name?

Hallucinations was rather a survey of many of the different medical conditions that can cause hallucinations and the types of hallucinations. With one exception, the chapter about Sacks's experimentation with drugs. It seemed somewhat out of place with all the rest of the content, but I appreciated his generally positive attitude about psychedelics. I found the beginning of that chapter rather insightful:Humans share much with other animals—the basic needs of food and drink or sleep, for example—but there are additional mental and emotional needs and desires which are perhaps unique to us. To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see overall patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or at least the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology or in states of mind which allow us to travel to other worlds, to transcend our immediate surroundings. We need detachment of this sort as much as we need engagement in our lives.

We may search, too, for a relaxing of inhibitions that makes it easier to bond with one another, or for transports that make our consciousness of time and mortality easier to bear. We seek a holiday from our inner and outer restrictions, a more intense sense of the here and now, the beauty and value of the world we live in.
He goes on to reference William James's book [b:The Varieties of Religious Experience|28820|The Varieties of Religious Experience|William James|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1167956957s/28820.jpg|1751058] and his transcendent experiences with nitrous oxide and then follows that with:Many of us find the reconciliation that James speaks of and even Wordsworthian "intimations of immortality" in nature, art, creative thinking or religion, some people can reach transcendent states through meditation or similar trance-inducing techniques or through prayer and spiritual exercises. But drugs offer a short cut, they promise transcendence on demand. These shortcuts are possible because certain chemicals can directly stimulate many complex brain functions.

Every culture has found chemical means of transcendence and at some point the use of such intoxicants becomes institutionalized at a magical or sacramental level, the sacramental use of psychoactive plant substances has a long history and continues to the present day in various shamanic and religious rites around the world.Although I believe he underestimates how our "needs" are generated by culture (c.f. [b:The Society of the Spectacle|381440|The Society of the Spectacle|Guy Debord|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1370746722s/381440.jpg|371226] I agree that there seems to be a natural desire to transcend and achieve a state of universal love, oneness or harmony with all things, but that desire is warped, moderated, stunted, rejected, or resisted by many people. Every mind is rather unique of course and will have varying reactions to such an abstract quality. When you reflect on those who are cruel and violent, it's easy to believe that such a desire is merely an affection of the privileged. But the native people who partake of Ayahuasca to commune with forest spirits give validity to the general sentiment. And it's not a stretch to suppose that cruel and violent people are frequently raised in a state of ignorance and blindness and their openness to the possibilities of life is stunted. And I do believe that my psychedelic experiences led me to "open my mind" and throw off certain mental conventions. To discover a greater level of creativity within myself. And they have perhaps helped lead me eventually to Zen Buddhism and meditation practice as well. I think there is a commonality between the psychedelic experience of the oneness and nothingness of all things and the Zen experience of oneness and nothingness.

Another element of this book that was of particular interest to me was the brief discussion of mass hallucinations. In reflecting on both the "...demonic possessions that swept over the French village of Loudun in 1634," and the Salem witch trials, Sacks writes about how, "A deeply superstitious and delusional atmosphere can also foster hallucinations arising from extreme emotional states, and these can effect entire communities." When religion takes on a fanatical character, it can drive groups to such extreme fear and stress that they can be lead to experiences hallucinations that pass like a communicable disease through the power of suggestion.

In a similar vein, he makes frequent references to how common it is for various mild hallucinations to occur for individuals who are not afflicted with any particular extreme conditions. Sleep deprivation, concussions, partial blindness, and many other moderate conditions can trigger a variety of visual and auditory hallucinations and "feelings" such as paranoia, calm, someone being in the room with you whom you can't see, and so on. He goes on to note how individuals who "see God" or "ghosts" are simply experiencing undiagnosed conditions that trigger hallucinations.

In total, Hallucinations will appeal to those who enjoy reading about medical science, and it had its moments, but overall, I felt it was too dry. ( )
  David_David_Katzman | Nov 26, 2013 |
He's lost his touch a bit - this was much drier than his earlier work. Most interesting and juicier chapter was, of course, the one about the effects of the prodigious quantities of drugs he took in his student days! Found myself skimming by the end; it was all quite repetitive. ( )
  bobbieharv | Nov 8, 2013 |
This book is a one beat drummer. When you first read it you think this is fascinating but then by chapter nine or ten if feels like you have read it all before. Dr. Sacks gives hundreds of examples of hallucinations and he divides them up based on their causes like loss of eyesight, sensory deprivation and brain injury for example. His sources include, himself, his patients, people who have written to him and other people experiences that he has read about. But the hallucinations start to sound the same and so after initial excitement my interest tailed off. Perhaps if I or my immediate family suffered from this I would have had a more sustained interest.. ( )
  muddyboy | Oct 16, 2013 |
Excellent Oliver Sacks as usual. Fascinating cases, insightful hypotheses. ( )
  GustavoG | Sep 20, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
"Why Kermit?" This was the question asked by a woman who started to have hallucinations of the "Sesame Street" frog many times a day, several weeks after brain surgery. Kermit meant nothing to her, she said, and his shifting moods -- sometimes he looked sad, sometimes happy, occasionally angry -- had nothing to do with her own feelings.
 

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307957241, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2012: A familiar song on mental repeat, a shadowy movement in an empty house--many of us experience minor visual and auditory hallucinations and think nothing of it. Neurologist and professor Oliver Sacks concerns himself with those for whom such breaks with reality are acute and life altering. Dr. Sacks’ latest book--one of the most compelling in his fascinating oeuvre--centers on Charles Bonnet syndrome, a condition characterized by intricate visual hallucinations. Weaving together case studies with anecdotes from his own past and accessible medical explanations, Dr. Sacks introduces us to Sharon, whose vision is invaded by Kermit the Frog; Gertie, whose phantasmal gentleman caller visits each evening, bearing gifts; and a host of other patients whose experiences elicit both sympathy and self-reflection. (The good doctor also shares his own experiments with hallucinogenic drugs, to comic and insightful effect.) Hallucinations is Oliver Sacks at his best: as learned, introspective, and approachable as we could possibly imagine. --Mia Lipman

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.

> Continue reading "The Neurological and the Divine: An Interview with Oliver Sacks"

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:57 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

An investigation into the types, physiological sources, and cultural resonances of hallucinations traces everything from the disorientations of sleep and intoxication to the manifestations of injury and illness.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 6 descriptions

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