From the GC Archives: I Wanna Be Literated

From the GC Archives: I Wanna Be Literated

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Oliver Sacks

The great thing about Oliver Sacks’ books is that one always comes away feeling enlightened after reading them. Hallucinations is no different. While Sacks is known mostly for his books covering a variety of neurological illnesses, painting a vivid picture of what life must be like for these patients, Hallucinations focuses on only the one condition. And therein lies the problem with this book: maybe it’s just too narrow of a scope.

While Sacks must be commended for his interesting and clear writing style (I am convinced he can bring any biological phenomenon to the masses, no matter how complex), there is just not much to work with in Hallucinations. People hallucinate, we all know this, but it’s not easy to make such a topic interesting for 300 pages, and I’m not sure Sacks pulls it off. There are some standout chapters (like the chapter that deals with drug addiction and the all-too-short chapter on sleep paralysis), but most of them just deal with the different kind of hallucinations people are prone to getting: objects, colors, people, the sky’s the limit.

At least, Hallucinations ends with a very strong and compelling idea, which involves hallucinations of the “other” – the feeling that we are in the presence of someone else. Could this be the impetus for belief in an otherworldly being or maybe even God? I wish he explored this idea more. In hands of someone like Sacks, such a topic would have made for a page-turner of a book.

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