Readersforum's Blog

December 12, 2012

Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks – review

HallucinationsOliver Sacks’s own drug experiences are at the centre of a remarkable study.

By Will Self

In undertaking this wide-ranging, compassionate and ultimately revelatory survey of the strange terrain of humans’ delusional capability, Oliver Sacks says he has been inspired by William James’s example – in The Varieties of Religious Experience and elsewhere – to create a sort of “natural history or anthology” of the hallucinatory. “My own favourite definition” of an hallucination, Sacks writes in one of his characteristically compendious footnotes, “is that given by William James in his 1890 Principles of Psychology: ‘An hallucination is a strictly sensational form of consciousness, as good and true a sensation as if there were a real object there. The object happens not to be there, that is all’ (his italics).”

So, following this plan – which appeals to common sense by eliding tricky questions about the reality or otherwise of the external world with a strictly phenomenological approach – Sacks introduces us to a realm of compelling oddities.

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