Tag Archives: Oliver Sacks

Hallucinations- Oliver Sacks

Synopsis (from amazon)

Have you ever seen something that wasn’t really there? Heard someone call your name in an empty house? Sensed someone following you and turned around to find nothing?

Hallucinations don’t belong wholly to the insane. Much more commonly, they are linked to sensory deprivation, intoxication, illness, or injury. In some conditions, hallucinations can lead to religious epiphanies or even the feeling of leaving one’s own body. Humans have always sought such life-changing visions, and for thousands of years have used hallucinogenic compounds to achieve them.

In this book, with his usual elegance, curiosity, and compassion, Dr Sacks weaves together stories of his patients and of his own mind-altering experiences to illuminate what hallucinations tell us about the organisation and structure of our brains, how they have influenced every culture’s folklore and art, and why the potential for hallucination is present in us all, a vital part of the human condition.


Oliver Sacks is probably generally seen as one of the most accessible neuroscientists of modern times.  Considering that, and my interest in psychology it’s quite surprising that I haven’t read anything by him before now. I can see why he is seen as accessible from his writing style, however I did find Hallucinations a little hard-going, more because of repetitiveness than anything else.

The book was split into sections based on causes of hallucinations (e.g. particular illnesses, sensory reasons, drugs), which made sense in some ways, however it also meant that when more than one cause for a particular type of hallucination could be found a description of that type of hallucination would be given in each chapter about each cause. There were different first-person accounts, which was interesting in it’s own way because different people hallucinate different things, even within a set type of hallucination. Even that did have some repetitive air to it though.

Having said that it was very interesting. I think Sack’s main aim was to make hallucinations more acceptable. They are generally seen as a sign of madness, and they can be that, but usually they aren’t, there are many more things that can cause them, and lots of different presentations of hallucinations which many people wouldn’t consider.

In fact he described what one would call a migraine aura usually as a type of hallucination which is interesting. I suppose calling it an aura makes it seem less serious or scary- but is that just because of a sort of stigma put on the idea of hallucinating. I do sometimes find migraine auras distressing- would they be more distressing if I called them hallucinations? Anyway it just shows that hallucinations aren’t all what one’s first thoughts of hallucinations would be. They aren’t always ‘real’ things. They aren’t always pictures even.

I did find it very interesting, and it probably changed my view of hallucinations a bit. It could have done with a bit of editing though. I’ll certainly read more by Sacks, and I already have Musicophilia and Migraine on my wishlist.

Oliver Sacks sadly died this weekend, which is what prompted me to write this review over the others that are waiting to be written.


Buy it:

Paperback (£7.49)

Kindle (£4.49)

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Filed under non-fiction review, psychology (non-fiction)

This is Your Brain on Music- Daniel Levitin

Beachy reading

Image by NailaJ via Flickr

Synopsis (from Amazon)

This is the first book to offer a comprehensive explanation of how humans experience music and to unravel the mystery of our perennial love affair with it. Using musical examples from Bach to the Beatles, Levitin reveals the role of music in human evolution, shows how our musical preferences begin to form even before we are born and explains why music can offer such an emotional experience.Music is an obsession at the heart of human nature, even more fundamental to our species than language. In “This Is Your Brain On Music” Levitin offers nothing less than a new way to understand it, and its role in human life.


When I bought this book what I really wanted was Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia but it wasn’t avaliable. I spotted this one and thought it might have some similarities and anyway regardless of whether it was similar or not it sounded interesting. I read a little of the introduction really to check it was worth buying and wanted to keep reading so decided to buy it.

Unfortunately I didn’t think the rest of the book really matched up to the introduction. The topic was interesting enough to stop me from giving up, however, and the brief narrative sections were well enough written to bare the less well written scientific sections. Maybe because I have studied psychology I found that Levitin was rather repetative- I suppose for someone who only had a basic knowledge of psychology (the group that the book was aimed at) may find this made things easier to follow however I am unsure how well the bits were written, only when I was fully familiar with ideas (as with nature verses nurture tests in twins, for example) did I find them easy to grasp. While I understood the other ideas I did find them hard to read- and when a topic is complicated you really don’t want to have to struggle with writing style too.

In other parts I got the impression he was trying to impress us with the psychologists, musicians and scientists he had met in his career and with all the studies he had done. While talking about experience within the field gives a certain authority I found this a bit much.

When it came down to it the only chapter I really enjoyed was the last one which talked about the evolutionary advantages of music. I think maybe because neurology is difficult to understand it’s also difficult to explain, and I think Levitin may have been in above his depth whereas this was easier to explain. While Levitin may be able to explain things to his students for those with no experience in psychology I don’t think I would really recommend this book.

The topic was promising but I don’t really think Levitin was the right person to write about it, at least not alone.

Oh and another thing I found this book a bit too American, it would refer to traditional songs in America that I didn’t really know. Also it referred to lots of ‘older’ pop music which I’m not familiar with or only vaguely familiar with.



Filed under non-fiction review, psychology (non-fiction)