Men ought to know that from nothing else but the brain comejoys, delights, laughter and sports, and sorrows, griefs despondency, andlamentations.
And by this, in an especial manner, we acquire wisdom andknowledge, and see and hear and know what are foul and what are fair, what arebad and what are good, what are sweet and what are unsavory. . . .
. . And by the sameorgan we become mad and delirious, and fears and terrors assail us. . . All thesethings we endure from the brain when it is not healthy.Order now
. . In these ways I am ofthe opinion that the brain exercises the greatest power in the man. –Hippocrates,On the Sacred Disease (4th century B. C) It is human nature to becurious about how we see and hear; why some things feel good and others hurt;how we move; how we reason, learn, remember, and forget; the nature of anger andmadness(Bear, Connors, Paradiso 3). This quote, found in my neurosciencetextbook, basically sums up why we study and write about the brain.
The brainhas been a curiosity to man since the beginning of science. The actual termneuroscience is as recent as the 1970s, but the study of the brain is asold as science itself. Evolving over time, the discipline of neuroscience hasundergone significant changes to become what it is today. New findings, newdiscoveries are always changing what we know, or think we know, about the brain.
It is with this in mind, that I attempt to discuss Oliver Sacks collection ofnarratives. Referring to himself as a physician, Oliver Sacks has dedicated hisentire life to studying the person behind neurological deficits. His interestlies not in the disease itself, but also in the person-the suffering,afflicted, fighting, human subject- and he presents these people in shortnarratives collected in The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Oliver writesthese stories to teach the reader about the identity of people who fall victimto neurological diseases.
He describes the experience of the victim as he/shestruggles to survive his/her disease. It is this struggle, this description ofpersona that leads to the notion of neurology of identity(viii), whicharouses the historic concept of the mind and the brain. In neurosciencesearliest years, a neurologist by the name of Descart spoke of the notion thatthere was a governing body that existed outside of the physical brain. Thisgovernor, the mind, was thought to be some sort of spiritual phenomena thatworked with the physical brain to control actions, interactional dualism.
This concept of the mind led to numerous studies regarding its actual existence. Reading Oliver Sacks narratives forces me to believe that there just might be anoutside force working together in some sort interactional dualism. The existenceof a mind would support Sacks idea of identity; that is, that a personalidentity is formulated through perceptions, our own perceptions. Oliver presentsnumerous stories where neurological disorders have completely impaired apersons physical ability; the ability to remember, the ability to comprehend,the ability to speak, hear.
These patients, however, never lose their spiritualability. Their ability to rejoice, to appear spiritually fulfilled, is neverlost, it is only hidden. An example of this spiritual phenomena is the case ofJimmie, who had suffered from amnesia, and could not remember anything for morethan two minutes, except that which was thirty years old. Jimmie had nocontinuity, no reality. He lived in the eighties, but his mind was in thethirties. Jimmie would erupt into panic attacks of confusion and disbelief, onlyto forget them a few minutes later.
After frequent visits with Dr. Sacks,however, Jimmie began to fine some continuity, some reality, in what Sacksrefers to as the absoluteness of spiritual attention and act(38). Jimmiesspirit, regardless of the brain deficit, was never completely lost. His spirit,which may very well exist in his mind, or outside of the physical brain, allowedhim to have temporary realities. Sacks writes about neurological deficits andhow people cope with these diseases to allow us, the reader, to adventure intoan unknown world.
We, as normal people with no neurological disease, really haveno concept of how devastating these circumstances can be to our life. Sacks,however, provides us with stories that make us appreciate our working brains.Thus it is extremely important to continue writing about the brain and itsmysteries to inform the everyday person of the disasters that at some point