Monday, December 7, 2009

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat

I came across a very, very interesting book mysteriously called “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat”. It was a compilation of true stories recounted by Oliver Sacks, a professor in clinical neurology. The stories come from Oliver Sacks’ encounters with patients who are lost in the bizarre and apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders.

The first story, which is also the title of the book, caught my attention immediately after I read the first page.

It is an account about Dr. P. , a music genius who is intelligent in many ways. However, his only problem is his inability to recognize faces or people of whom he should be familiar with. Even scarier, he would sometimes see faces where there were none. When on the street, he might pat the heads of water-hydrants and parking meters, seeing these as the heads of childen. He would also greet carved knobs on furniture and be surprised when they did not reply.

Dr. P. consulted an ophthalmologist, who examined his eyes closely and found there was nothing wrong with it. But he did say that there was trouble with the visual parts of Dr. P’s brain. He was then referred to neurologist, Oliver Sacks. Dr Sacks started a series of simple tests that yielded rather strange results.

In one test, Dr Sacks handed Dr. P. a glove. “What is this?”, Dr Sacks asked. Dr. P. carefully examined the simple object and announced at last, “It’s a continuous surface, infolded on itself.” (Hmm, a strange observation eh.) He hesitated, but continued to say, “It appears to have, five outpouchings, if this is the word.”

Dr. P. did not at all relate the glove to himself, or to a part of his body. No child would have the power to see and speak of “a continuous surface, infolded on itself”. But any child would simple see a glove as a glove, and immediately relate it to be worn by a hand. Dr. P. however saw no connection. He didn’t see anything as familiar. Visually, he was lost in a world of lifeless abstractions.

The interesting lesson I learn from this strange, but true story is something that Oliver Sacks addresses concerning judgment and identity. In Dr. P’s case, the visual part of his brain is missing cognitive judgment. He cannot recognize faces or expressions on faces because he no longer relates what he sees to himself. He lacked judgment and identity.

Oliver Sacks said, “Judgment must be the first faculty of higher life or state of mind. Yes, the brain is a machine and computer, but our mental process which constitutes our being and life are not just abstract and mechanical, but personal, as well – and involve not just classifying and categorising, but continual judging and feeling also.” Our human minds are meant to process information based on judgment and identity of oneself in relation to others or the objects we see.

I was amazed as I read all this. I was thankful to God for his creative brilliance in creating us. What separates us humans from animals? It is our God-given identity and our inner judgment. Oliver Sacks said, “A judgement is intuitive, personal, comprehensive, and concrete – we “see” how things stand, in relation to one another and oneself.” Sadly, it was precisely this seeing and relating that Dr. P. had lost.

Thank God for fashioning our brains unlike a machine or computer. He created us to feel and love. He created each of us with a unique identity, which enables us to see other humans and objects around us in relation to ourselves. That's really the only way that one can live. By living out our true identity, which we can only discover by going to the Creator of that identity. Otherwise, our existence will be sadly likened to senseless animals, mere mindless creatures whose sole purpose in mind is to survive

No comments:

The Visitors