Science fiction and fantasy
by Oliver Sacks
After reading this book, you might come away with the impression that nearly everybody experiences one or more of these things at one time or another. It's not easy to quantify, not least because not everyone is aware that they do hallucinate, but the book makes it clear that it's not only hardened drug users who have visions or hear things. What's interesting is the spectrum of experiences, including ones that are so mild that many people will not realise that they are hallucinating at all. The author is very candid about his personal experiences, including his experiments with recreational drugs back when certain substances were still legal.
What I found the most fascinating about this book was not the range of experiences, no matter how colourful or strange, but the things they teach us about the workings of our brains and our society. Later chapters deal with hallucinations that have more of a feeling of agency, such as night hags, grief-induced hauntings, and other visions where the subject believes there's a presence with malevolent or benevolent intentions towards them. However it's the section dealing with religion that I found the most astonishing. The relationship between prayer, trance states and hallucinations was a real eye-opener.
The book could do with a short glossary for some of the medical terminology, but on the whole it's an easy read. The style is informative and engaging, and it's a fascinating look at a facet of neurology that throws light on how we perceive reality.
11th March 2013
If you like this, try:59 Seconds: Think A Little, Change A Lot by Richard Wiseman
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This book explores the science of sleep and offers tips on becoming a super sleeper.
Sleights of Mind by Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde with Sandra Blakeslee
This book explores the things magicians can teach neuroscientists about the way our minds work.
Review © Ros Jackson
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