Have you ever seen something that wasn't 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, Oliver Sacks 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, with his usual elegance, curiosity, and compassion, Dr. Sacks 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.
'Sacks writes, basically, adventure stories, accounts of voyages into the unexplained territory of the brain' Sunday Times 'Sacks writes, basically, adventure stories, accounts of voyages into the unexplained territory of the brain' Sunday Times 'Sacks is at his most engaging when he brings the ostensibly strange into the realm of normality ... This is where Sacks triumphs. Not just in the clarity with which he teaches us about the obscure phenomology of the human brain, but in the light his writings casts on even our most ordinary experiences.' Daily Telegraph 'The king of pop-neurology reveals how almost all of us have hallucinations' GQ 'It's a feat to bring any specialty in medicine vividly to life, and to do so without relinquishing the sensitivity and empathy that characterise the best doctors is something that few achieve. Oliver Sacks has managed it throughout his career ... Affable, affectionate, respectful and smart, Sacks could be the David Attenborough of the human mind.' Independent on Sunday 'An enthralling, often guiltily comic insight into the pecularities the brain can conjure.' Irish Examiner 'Oliver Sacks is a graceful, lucid and elegant prose stylist. Though perhaps above all, he is the witty, warm, humble and deeply compassionate explorer of how our brains influence our world ... fascinating.' Lady 'Hallucinations is an absorbing study of an exotic subject ... Hallucinatory literature is either transgressive or presented as a search for enlightenment. This new volume sits elegantly between the two extremes and is more rewarding than either - a continuing investigation into what makes us human.' Literary Review 'The greatest living ethnographer of those fascinating tribes qho live on the outer and still largely unchartered shores of the land of Mind-and-Brain.' Observer 'A very human insight into what happens when our brains go awry.' Psychologies 'Sacks writes in the the great tradition of literary doctors. He is humane, relaxed and amused, and loved a good anecdote.' Spectator 'Startling and intriguing' Sunday Times 'No more enlightening science book has appeared this year ... Miss this at your peril.' Sunday Times Science Book of the Year 'A superb synthesis of the literature on these arresting, disturbing and sometimes terrifying phenomena, and a profound work of humanity.' TLS 'Fascinating' The TImes 'Wide-ranging, compassionate and ultimately revelatory ... Hallucinations is the keystone of the amazing edifice that is this remarkable thinker's oeuvre.' Will Self, Guardian
Oliver Sacks is a physician and the author of many books, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Awakenings (which inspired the Oscar-nominated film) and Musicophilia. Born in London and educated at Oxford, he now lives in New York City, where he is Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University. He is the first, and only, Columbia University Artist, and is also a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. In 2008, he was appointed Commander of the British Empire.