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Hallucinations (2012)

by Oliver Sacks

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,6887110,316 (3.66)61
This book is 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. Have you ever seen something that was not really there? Heard someone call your name in an empty house? Sensed someone following you and turned around to find nothing? Hallucinations don't belong wholly to the insane. Much more commonly, they are linked to sensory deprivation, intoxication, illness, or injury. People with migraines may see shimmering arcs of light or tiny, Lilliputian figures of animals and people. People with failing eyesight, paradoxically, may become immersed in a hallucinatory visual world. Hallucinations can be brought on by a simple fever or even the act of waking or falling asleep, when people have visions ranging from luminous blobs of color to beautifully detailed faces or terrifying ogres. Those who are bereaved may receive comforting "visits" from the departed. In some conditions, hallucinations can lead to religious epiphanies or even the feeling of leaving one's own body. Humans have always sought such life-changing visions, and for thousands of years have used hallucinogenic compounds to achieve them. As a young doctor in California in the 1960s, the author had both a personal and a professional interest in psychedelics. These, along with his early migraine experiences, launched a lifelong investigation into the varieties of hallucinatory experience. Here, he weaves together stories of his patients and of his own mind-altering experiences to illuminate what hallucinations tell us about the organization and structure of our brains, how they have influenced every culture's folklore and art, and why the potential for hallucination is present in us all, a vital part of the human condition.… (more)
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» See also 61 mentions

English (67)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  German (1)  Italian (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (71)
Showing 1-5 of 67 (next | show all)
Basically just a long list of case studies. Interesting stories but little context or insight. ( )
  sunforsiberia | Dec 28, 2023 |
After the disappointment of the author's 'An Anthropologist on Mars' I was pleasantly surprised to find this volume far more interesting, entertaining and devoid of outdated notions towards disability etc.

The book considers the different reasons why people experience hallucinations, which are often visual, but may also be auditory, tactile or even the smelling of something not really there. Some can be caused by problems with vision and hearing, especially as part of the ageing process, where the brain seems to 'make up' for the deficiency in question. Others are associated with conditions that affect many people, such as migraines or epilepsy. And some are commonly experienced when falling asleep.

The more frightening of these sleep-related ones include the phenomena of sleep paralysis. The author makes a case for this being responsible for a lot of the ancient tales of incubus/succubus and other evil presences besetting people as they lay in bed, lying on them and nearly suffocating them. It reminded me of a haunted house short story read as a child but which I've not been able to track down.

There are also types of hallucination which may have led to the worldwide phenomena of ghosts or religious epiphanies and out-of-the body experiences. The sections are all illustrated with brief case studies of particular anonymised patients or people who responded to surveys requesting information about particular conditions. One of the most valuable things Sacks did for his patients was to assure them that they were not going mad, a common fear shared by many.

Altogether I found this a fascinating read and would award it five stars. ( )
  kitsune_reader | Nov 23, 2023 |
Breezy and skips from case study to case study like a frog from one pond leaf to the next, never quite dipping in the waters and getting some depth on any one issue. This is Sacks' style for which he is well liked, but much like a series of interesting magazine articles you start wanting to dig into the meat of the issue at some point and it never really gets there.
What it does do really well is articulate all the variety of hallucinations from a plethora of points of view, (supposedly) real patients with real stories about living with different forms of hallucinations and the impact its had on their lives. From auditory to sensory to visual, the blind seeing visions to hallucinating music to the brain miscoding information making you think everyone you know is a stranger, there's certainly a good spectrum of the scope of possibilities here. Sacks even includes an aside about his personal experiences with hallucinations, mostly derived from drug use - something that could probably have been a fertile book on its own with the renaissance of psychedelics as a therapeutic. ( )
  A.Godhelm | Oct 20, 2023 |
At first I enjoyed this book immensely, but as the chapters proceeded I grew less and less interested. It's not that the material stopped being interesting, it's that I just stopped caring about hallucinations. Also, the writing style wore on me a bit. At first the use of snippets of case studies was nice - a new person mentioned in each paragraph! - but eventually it felt very disjointed and choppy; he didn't flesh out any of the people he talked about, they were just supporting evidence for the fact he was stating.

Fun fact: my copy of this book jumped from page 268, doppelgängers, to page 301, the D section of the bibliography. I had to check out the ebook version from the library to finish, although at the time I seriously considered not bothering. ( )
  blueskygreentrees | Jul 30, 2023 |
I had no idea how common hallucinations were – or maybe I just hadn’t really thought about it. From Charles Bonnet syndrome to Anton's syndrome, hypnagogic hallucinations to phantom limb pains, this book walks readers through different types of hallucinations as recounted by the individuals who experience them. Though the stories and situations were interesting, I’m left with the same feeling I have whenever I finish any Oliver Sack’s book: I wish there had been more science. ( )
  thezenofbrutality | Jul 5, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 67 (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.
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Oliver Sacksprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ruiter, PonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woren, DanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woren, DanReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When the word "hallucination" first came into use, in the early sixteenth century, it denoted only "a wandering mind."
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This book is 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. Have you ever seen something that was not really there? Heard someone call your name in an empty house? Sensed someone following you and turned around to find nothing? Hallucinations don't belong wholly to the insane. Much more commonly, they are linked to sensory deprivation, intoxication, illness, or injury. People with migraines may see shimmering arcs of light or tiny, Lilliputian figures of animals and people. People with failing eyesight, paradoxically, may become immersed in a hallucinatory visual world. Hallucinations can be brought on by a simple fever or even the act of waking or falling asleep, when people have visions ranging from luminous blobs of color to beautifully detailed faces or terrifying ogres. Those who are bereaved may receive comforting "visits" from the departed. In some conditions, hallucinations can lead to religious epiphanies or even the feeling of leaving one's own body. Humans have always sought such life-changing visions, and for thousands of years have used hallucinogenic compounds to achieve them. As a young doctor in California in the 1960s, the author had both a personal and a professional interest in psychedelics. These, along with his early migraine experiences, launched a lifelong investigation into the varieties of hallucinatory experience. Here, he weaves together stories of his patients and of his own mind-altering experiences to illuminate what hallucinations tell us about the organization and structure of our brains, how they have influenced every culture's folklore and art, and why the potential for hallucination is present in us all, a vital part of the human condition.

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