The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

And so to the book that started it all -- The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, from 1985. It was strange to return to this first book of case studies; I noticed was a marked difference between this and the later volumes. This one is more earnest, less self-revealing, more academic, less conversational. There is less of a sense of Oliver Sacks himself in these pages, and some of his reflections have a stilted, almost try-hard quality that he lost later on. I was uncomfortable reading the last section, "The World of the Simple," in which Sacks discusses "simpletons", "retardates", "morons.' As the sister of someone with an intellectual disability, these terms, though probably clinically accurate, made me feel very uneasy, even though Sacks argues throughout for a recognition of these patients as whole people, with skills and passions as well as disabilities.

There was something fascinating from The Mind's Eye that I forgot to mention in my last post. Apparently the ability of humans to adapt to reading was something that much puzzled the early evolutionists -- without divine intervention (and perhaps forward planning on the part of the Almighty), how to explain the human brain's mastery of this complicated process? One theory is that the part of the brain adapted to interpreting landscape and geological features has been co-opted to assist in recognising the shapes of letters. Apparently there have been studies which show that all the world's different alphabets share the same basic forms and shapes, analogous to the shapes found in landscape: hills and rivers, mountains and trees. I just love that theory and I hope it's true!

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