Book Review: Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks

There is so much to concentrate on reviewing this book. Sacks telling the medical side of hallucinations, the personal side, his and the patients’, the history of it, the different conditions, everything, but what piqued my interest was their relation to the imagination, arts, and creativity. Sacks repeatedly note that these hallucinations might have impacted our cultural imagery from the moire patterns on our art to horrible monsters seen between the wake and sleep as Edgar Allan Poe did. Sacks also wrote about how times and science have changed hallucinations from fairies to aliens. So, it is not a one-way street with hallucinations, but a dialogue between what is and what isn’t. But also, that imagery of hallucinations seem to cross borders and have similarity to them despite the culture which might explain similarities with some of those archetypes we have.

To think, what an impact these mental states have had to our world, to the words we speak, to the ideas we play with, to the monsters that torment us in movies and in our minds. Yet, they are so often seen as dangerous, harmful, and unwanted in our modern societies. So why do we have them if they are abnormal? What good do they do than enchant our culture’s symbols and entertain us with horror stories? Are they some quirk that has snuck past individual selection for passing on genes or something else? I don’t consider having an answer to these questions, only thinking aloud how hallucinations and even our “normal” mental state are fascinatingly complex and bizarre. That the lines we too quickly draw between sane, healthy, and useful are not as clear as we want to think. That out of bizarre can raise something that transforms our way of thinking and understanding of the world.

I mentioned about the harmfulness, and I think it is not ours to judge. Sacks repeatedly writes what kind of impact the hallucinations have had on the people’s lives he recounts, and some like to live with the hallucinations while others find them disconcerting. But I can understand why people might find seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, smelling things that are not there scary. Scary enough to think people like that should be medicated. The unknown and uncontrollable is always frightening. But that depends on the person and of the hallucinations. It is beautiful how Oliver Sacks lets the people speak on their own, what the experiences are like. His text is not some cold medical facts account, but personal stories and reasons behind them, making this delight to listen/read to. I loved the book and how comprehensive it was. It made me question a lot of things. For one, what is normal, and what is not. Also, our consciousness is not straightforward or simple. If you are interested in hallucinations, consciousness, mind, mind-altering, then you should check this book out.

Thank you for reading! Happy days!

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