Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author, dead at 82
Renowned neurologist, author wrote books such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat

Dr. Oliver Sacks, the neurologist who studied the intricacies of the brain and wrote eloquently about them in books such as Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, died on Sunday at the age of 82, the New York Times reported.

The British-born Sacks, who announced in February 2015 that he had terminal liver cancer, died at his home in New York City, his longtime personal assistant Kate Edgar told the Times.

Sacks was called “a kind of poet laureate of medicine” and “one of the great clinical writers of the 20th century” by the New York Times.

Using a typewriter or writing in longhand, Sacks authored more than a dozen books, filling them with detailed, years-long case histories of patients who often became his friends. He explained to lay readers how the brain handles everything from autism to savantism, colourblindness to Tourette’s syndrome, and how his patients could adapt to their unconventional minds.

Sacks’ view, as expressed in his 1995 book An Anthropologist on Mars, was that such disorders also came with a potential that could bring out “latent powers, developments, evolutions, forms of life that might never be seen, or even be imaginable.”

“The brain is the most intricate mechanism in the universe,” he said in a People magazine interview. “I couldn’t imagine spending my life with kidneys.”

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The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales

In his most extraordinary book, “one of the great clinical writers of the twentieth century” (The New York Times) recounts the case histories of patients lost in the bizarre, apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders.

Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat tells the stories of individuals afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations: patients who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; who are no longer able to recognize people and common objects; who are stricken with violent tics and grimaces or who shout involuntary obscenities; whose limbs have become alien; who have been dismissed as retarded yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents.

If inconceivably strange, these brilliant tales remain, in Dr. Sacks’s splendid and sympathetic telling, deeply human. They are studies of life struggling against incredible adversity, and they enable us to enter the world of the neurologically impaired, to imagine with our hearts what it must be to live and feel as they do. A great healer, Sacks never loses sight of medicine’s ultimate responsibility: “the suffering, afflicted, fighting human subject.”

One of my personal favorites. This book single-handedly got me interested in psychology, neuroscience, and the human mind. R.I.P. Oliver Sacks, truly one of the best scientists and humanists of the past century!

  Brain abnormalities are present even before onset of schizophrenia  

Even before the onset of schizophrenia, irregularities in key brain areas are already present in individuals at higher risk of developing psychosis, a Yale-led study shows.

The findings identify a potential marker for the debilitating disease that afflicts 1% of the world’s population and suggest at least a partial explanation for why schizophrenia most typically manifests itself in young adulthood.

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This study was supported by grants  from the National Institute of Mental Health,  National Institutes of Health, a Brain and Behavior Research Foundation Young Investigator Award from the Commonwealth Research Center.

m3rtyn Presents MIXTAPE 2…

My art inspired by Anamanaguchi’s “Everything Explodes”. I wanted to draw everything exploding then I realized everything explodes for individuals all the time inside their own head. I actually kind of feel like this right now; …

Subliminal Messaging and the "Dark Side" of Hypnosis

The potential to manipulate the mind in a trance state feels like the white elephant in the room when it comes to discussing hypnosis with those who disapprove of the practice. The belief that hypnosis is dangerous or unsafe can be even more difficult to change or overcome than the belief that hypnosis isn’t real or its only use is for silly stage shows (not that stage shows are silly; I’m just illustrating a common misconception).  If a skeptic approaches a hypnotist and says “Excuse me, but I think you’re faking.  There’s no way hypnosis is real or scientifically based, and you are a no-good charlatan with delusions of grandeur” then the hypnotist can take him or her aside and disprove the claims then and there.  The hypnotist can perform a demonstration and utilize observation of subject behavior/response or even fMRI or EEG to substantiate that hypnosis changes brain activity and does exist from a scientific perspective.  If a different skeptic comes along and says to the same hypnotist “Hypnosis is dangerous and can be used to cause undue damage to a given person,” the situation becomes significantly more complicated.

The messy fact of the matter is that yes, if used in the wrong way or by the wrong person hypnosis can be dangerous or unsafe.  It’s a very small and unlikely possibility, but in order to do this post justice I am just going to focus on the fact that the possibility does exist.  If it didn’t, there would be no need to have certification programs for practitioners or ethical guidelines in place, official or otherwise.  What is the main aspect of hypnosis that can be dangerous if performed unethically? Suggestions!  A common fear among new hypnosis-experiencers is that they will be lead to perform an action against their own will.  Horror stories of hypnosis being used by the government or serial killers or other negative influences for felonious purposes exist, and it is somewhat possible that some of them contain a grain of truth.  Unethical stage hypnotists and hypnotherapists exist (luckily the vast majority are wonderful people) and their goals are mainly to exert their power or embarrass others, rather than ensure everyone is having fun and feeling comfortable with the situation.  My goal is not to make anybody paranoid as a result of this article, but I had to address all of that in order to set up my next point.  

Subliminal messaging has such a negative connotation to it, even outside of this, but think of it this way: whether it takes place in a trance state or not, the practice of subliminal messaging is itself completely neutral.  What makes it good or bad is how it is used.  For example, the principles that guide a licensed hypnotherapist to change someone’s life for the better are comparable to the ones that could potentially help a murderer to manufacture an obeying accomplice (the legitimacy of this isn’t solidified, but I’m exaggerating on purpose to illustrate the dichotomy here).  Subliminal messaging, both inside and outside of hypnosis, can produce some really cool effects in addition to the scary ones!  I don’t feel at all qualified to discuss the finer details of this subject, but luckily I am about to recommend a book that is.  Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow is the perfect resource for anybody who feels uncomfortable or uninformed about this blessing-in-disguise. I plan to use it as a resource for future posts and I would encourage anybody to read it cover to cover.

I could write more, and I probably will at some point, but I just want to let all of this sink in for a bit. A lot of hypnotists are quick to brush off this topic or avoid it at all costs out of fear that subjects will grow even more wary than they already are, but I firmly believe that it would be unethical to not discuss this topic at length.  It’s an important issue that professionals in this field must become comfortable with facing, and being prepared to have conversations about it might even put subjects more at ease than they would be otherwise.  For subjects: the thing to take away from this is not “don’t trust hypnotists ever” but instead to be reasonably cautious about hypnosis.  Ninety-nine percent of the time hypnosis is a safe and fun practice, and it’s usually easy to tell when somebody clearly does not have good intentions.  Be careful if you don’t know the hypnotist well, particularly on the Internet. Establishing trust and rapport is the most basic component of the hypnotist-subject relationship and if a hypnotist is not willing to do this with you then they are not worth your time. Please read the book for more information about how this sort of thing can work, and feel free to ask me any questions if I have raised any unanswered concerns.  I may not have the answer, but I know plenty of people who probably will.

Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating. Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.