Oliver Sacks and the Explanation of Hallucinations


This one is long overdue:

Leave it to a psychologist to talk about Hallucinations. That is the title and premise of the book by Oliver Sacks. For those not familiar with Sacks, he wrote the book Awakenings, which was turned into a film with Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams. In many ways Hallucinations is similar to Awakenings, both deal with certain mental disorders and the drugs that affect them.

I learned quite a bit about both mental diseases and psychoactive drugs (such as LSD). There are many different types of Hallucinations, both auditory and visual, and they are not necessarily all bad. Some of them only last temporarily, go away and never return. Some of recurring; many last a lifetime. Sacks gives so much information and explanations that it can be hard to follow at times; however his writing style is also so straight forward that it is easy to understand what he is trying to say.

Sacks is also very frank about his use of LSD and other hallucinogens when he was a young doctor and even shares some of hallucinatory experiences. They are quite humourous at times. In fact, just the thought of an 80 year old British guys talking about how drugs he ingested in periods of his life makes me laugh.

But it’s not just drugs Sacks explains so well. He also teaches the reader of different types of Schizophrenia, epilepsy, and other, more rare illnesses that might on occasion cause people to imagine things that aren’t there. Ever hear the one about the woman who heard an entire symphony in hear head? Music often occurs during auditory hallucinations, and seeing friends and relatives is a common side effect of visual ones. Sacks teaches us even the most minute details without sounding pretentious or overly science-y.

Hallucinations is a great read for anyone interested in psychology, mental illness, drugs, science, medicine, and evolution. Or if you merely want to learn new information also pick up this book.

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