Oliver Sacks on Hallucinations

By Grant Jacobs 15/06/2010

I’ve long been a fan of Oliver Sacks’ books, so it’s a delight to hear and see him speak.*

It’s very different to other TED lectures, no slides or video, and given from an arm chair with him periodically reading from notes. You can almost imagine that he writes his books** by (more-or-less) dictating a talk to himself. He’s got a great sense of humour and speaks very clearly about his subject.

As you listen to him you will hear of a connection between this lecture and propagnosia (which I have previously written about) a condition where people are unable to recognise faces. (This condition is surprisingly common, and has been estimated to occur in some form in ~2% of people.) As he explains – from about 13:30 minutes into his talk – the connection is that the same region of the brain (the fusiform gyrus) that when damaged can cause people to become unable to recognise faces is also associated with facial hallucinations. He goes on to mention that different areas of the brain are associated with hallucinations of different things, buildings, landscapes, cartoons… (One of the remarkable features of the brain is it’s specific association of particular things with very particular parts of the brain.)

Anyway I should stop prattling on and let you hear the man himself:


* Oddly, I’ve never thought to look in YouTube or the TED lectures for him before. I guess I never considered him to be someone who might give a lecture.

** Awakenings (also made into a movie starring Robin Williams and Robert de Niro), The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars, Seeing Voices, among others.

Other posts on Code for life:

The inheritance of face recognition (should you blame your parents if you can’t recognise faces?)

Book excerpt – Losing the faces of your wife and children

iPads for the disabled

Minorities, disabilities and scientists

What is your relationship with your research notebook?