“The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat” by Oliver Sacks

Understanding Mental Illness

“Nothing is to be feared, but to be understood.” This is perhaps true especially in the cases of mental disorders. There are few things more devastating than losing one’s mind or the control of one’s body. If we can understand the cause of the disorder, however, we may be able to find a cure, or at least come to term with it.

This books details some of the mental disorders and symptoms that are caused by damages to the brain. e.g. phantom limb, visual and auditory hallucinations, loss of memory, loss of speech. There are cases in which people lose sense and control of their own body (proprioception), or fail to recognize objects, people and even themselves in the mirror.

It seems to me that the brain not only receives auditory and visual signals, processes and stores them in real time, but also replays, and even edits the signals sometimes like editing a movie, all with or without our volition. “Swiftly the head mass becomes an enchanted loom where millions of flashing shuttles weave a dissolving pattern, always a meaningful pattern though never an abiding one; a shifting harmony of subpatterns” [“Man on His Nature” by Sir Charles Sherrington”]

The excitatory and inhibitory pathways in the neural networks are seamlessly integrated into a normal functioning brain.  If the balance between them is disrupted by injures or other causes (drugs, alcohol), disorders arise.

The Question of Identity

What is a man without his memory? or without the ability to understand abstract concepts? If we are, as Hume put it, “nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement”, then what exactly is individual identity, if there is one?


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