Oliver Sacks: Bad Ass

Great profile of Oliver Sacks from The Smithsonian magazine:

It’s easy to get the wrong impression about Dr. Oliver Sacks. It certainly is if all you do is look at the author photos on the succession of brainy best-selling neurology books he’s written since Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat made him famous. Cumulatively, they give the impression of a warm, fuzzy, virtually cherubic fellow at home in comfy-couched consultation rooms. A kind of fusion of Freud and Yoda. And indeed that’s how he looked when I spoke with him recently, in his comfy-couched consultation room.

But Oliver Sacks is one of the great modern adventurers, a daring explorer of a different sort of unmapped territory than braved by Columbus or Lewis and Clark. He has gone to the limits of the physical globe, almost losing his life as darkness fell on a frozen Arctic mountainside. He’s sailed fragile craft to the remotest Pacific isles and trekked through the jungles of Oaxaca. He even lived through San Francisco in the 1960s.

But to me, the most fearless and adventuresome aspect of his long life (he’s nearing 80) has been his courageous expeditions into the darkest interiors of the human skull—his willingness to risk losing his mind to find out more about what goes on inside ours.

I have a feeling this word has not yet been applied to him, but Oliver Sacks is a genuine badass, and a reading of his new book, Hallucinations, cements that impression. He wades in and contends with the weightiest questions about the brain, its functions and its extremely scary anomalies. He is, in his search for what can be learned about the “normal” by taking it to the extreme, turning the volume up to 11, as much Dr. Hunter Thompson as Dr. Sigmund Freud: a gonzo neurologist.

Full Story: The Smithsonian: Why Oliver Sacks is One of the Great Modern Adventurers

Just 15 Minutes of Sensory Deprivation Triggers Hallucinations

You don’t need psychedelic drugs to start seeing colors and objects that aren’t really there. Just 15 minutes of near-total sensory deprivation can bring on hallucinations in many otherwise sane individuals.

Psychologists stuck 19 healthy volunteers into a sensory-deprivation room, completely devoid of light and sound, for 15 minutes. Without the normal barrage of sensory information flooding their brains, many people reported experiencing visual hallucinations, paranoia and a depressed mood.

“This is a pretty robust finding,” wrote psychiatrist Paul Fletcher of the University of Cambridge, who studies psychosis but was not involved in the study. “It appears that, when confronted by lack of sensory patterns in our environment, we have a natural tendency to superimpose our own patterns.”

Wired: Just 15 Minutes of Sensory Deprivation Triggers Hallucinations

Hallucinations weren’t considered madness in middle ages

Mind Hacks shares this excerpt from Hallucinations and Their Impact on Art:

What is more curious to the contemporary man is that the medieval description of insanity does not include hallucinations; and the experience of possession (passivity phenomena) is not described as occurring concurrently with or as part of a visionary state.

In Western Europe from AD 500-1500, people who heard voices or saw visions considered themselves, and were considered buy their contemporaries, to have had an actual perceptual experience of either divine or satanic inspiration. They were not considered mad and were not treated as such. Hallucinations (fantasmata) were only considered mad when combined with trickery (prestigiae).

Mind Hacks: Hallucinating sanity in the middle ages

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