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November 8, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Sacks is a physician and professor of neurology, one of those rare science writers who can convert dense neurological jargon into a nonfiction page-turner. His previous works on cognition include Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain.
Hallucinations explores the realm of the not-really-there. Sacks says that hallucinations are a normal part of the human experience.
A myriad of conditions can cause the brain to hallucinate. Sacks writes, “One does not see with the eyes; one sees with the brain.” Some epileptics have “ecstatic seizures,” which can lead to profound religious experiences. The bereaved might cope with loss by hallucinating loved ones back into existence, and the dying sometimes experience relatives beckoning to them from the great beyond. Sacks says the brain creates its own experiences when stimulation is lost through blindness, deafness or other changes to cerebral activity, as is often the case with seizures.
Sacks is personally familiar with hallucinations. He writes about his days when experimental drug use led him to talk philosophy with a spider and watch armies wage war on the sleeve of a hanging shirt. He has also experienced more organic hallucinations. A lifelong sufferer of migraines, Sacks experienced a zigzag arc of intensely bright colors of blue and orange that temporarily impaired his vision.
These and other experiences in Hallucinations provide a real-world look into the world of the unreal.