by Oliver Sacks
“Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat tells the stories of individuals afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations: patients who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; who are no longer able to recognize people and common objects; who are stricken with violent tics and grimaces or who shout involuntary obscenities; whose limbs have become alien; who have been dismissed as retarded yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents. ” (goodreads)
This is basically what some may call a “medical book” of various neurological disorders, but it was so brilliantly told, I felt like I was reading stories. Even without a background in psychology or neurology, if you are a strong reader, you will probably appreciate this book of nonfiction. The records were sometimes so hard to grasp your mind around (not because of the many medical terms) but because I couldn’t possibly imagine how people could live with such unique and extraordinary complications. What I’m trying to say is, just read this book already.
This book consisted of many different stories but my favorite one was The Disembodied Lady and the discussion about proprioception (“position sense”) and the many different senses we have besides the 5 commonly known ones. Here’s the quote that intrigued me:
The sense of the body, I told her, is given by three things: vision, balance organs (the vestibular system), and proprioception—which she’d lost. Normally all of these worked together. If one failed, the others could compensate, or substitute—to a degree…
‘What I must do then,’ she said slowly, ‘is use vision, use my eyes, in every situation where I used—what do you call it?—proprioception before. I’ve already noticed,’ she added, musingly, ‘that I may “lose” my arms. I think they’re one place, and I find they’re another. This “proprioception” is like the eyes of the body, the way the body sees itself. And if it goes, as it’s gone with me, it’s like the body’s blind. My body can’t “see” itself if it’s lost its eyes, right? So I have to watch it—be its eyes. Right?’”
Another case-study I was quite fascinated by was the woman who had no concept of “left”. So she would only eat the right side of her plate of food, only apply makeup to the right side of her face, etc. To fix her eating problem, she was given a rotating chair. To reach the left side of her plate, she would turn slowly keep turning her chair to the right until she came across the “left” side of her plate. Her eyes were perfectly normal, but the entire concept of “left” did not exist in her mind! I just can’t imagine it!