The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

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General Psychology 2301

Fall 2009

Pathology of Select Neurological Diseases

“The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” written by Oliver Sacks, is a book of

case studies in which individuals with neurological dysfunctions are described.

“Hippocrates introduced the historical conception of disease, the idea that diseases have a

course, from their first intimations to their climax or crisis, and thence to their happy or

fatal resolution.” (Sacks, Preface vii). The cases chronicled, possessing dysfunctions of

the cerebral area, also pose significant impairments to daily life actions. These

impairments include, but are not limited to, “loss of memory, loss of vision, and loss

of identity” (Sacks, 3). Impairments such as these usually disrupt one's life and the life's

of those that are close to them. Individuals who are mentally challenged face constant

difficulties and function somewhat differently than “normal individuals”. This is however

not to say that one who is mentally challenged cannot excel in other areas. The subjects

of many of the recorded cases have high intelligence along with their unusual


In the clinical study entitled “The Lost Mariner”, Jimmy G. suffers from a form

of amnesia, affecting his ability to remember recent memories. “What sort of life (if any),

what sort of a world, what sort of a self, can be preserved in a man who has lost the

greater part of his memory and, with this, his past, and his moorings in time?” (Sacks, 23)
Described as “charming, intelligent, memoryless Jimmie G.” (Sacks, 23), Jimmie
suffers from short term memory loss. He has however, retained extraordinary skills in
mastering mind games and his overall intelligence. One example would be when Jimmy

would go to Oliver Sacks’ clinic for his daily session, he would not be able to recall

having previously met the neurologist. Some mentally challenged individuals are gifted

with savant syndrome. Those with savant syndrome excel in abilities not considered to be

related to general intelligence. Jimmie excelled in performing arithmetical calculations,

even though he could not remember events past the time of World War II.

Another given example of savant syndrome is the set of twins referred to as

“mental calculators” (Sacks, 195). The twins had uncanny skills in complicated long term

calculations. One could imply a calender date and the twins could quickly calculate the

day of the week, and would also know the events on that specific day. Simple

addition and subtraction problems, however, eluded them. The twins displayed a concrete

understanding in their mathematical competence, obtaining the solution by “dividing a

compound into three equal parts” (Sacks, 200). Additionally, the twins sustained some

brain damage and could not speak plainly, as “normal” individuals do. Instead, they

developed their own form of language so they could communicate with each other.

Seemingly opposite to amnesia is the ability of iconic memory, or what is also

known as photographic memory. While most people associate iconic memory as simply

being photographic, in truth it may also include auditory elements. Music is the most

popular form of entertaining stimulus due to its accessibility. Music can represent

thoughts and emotions of either one person or of an entire community. A clinical study

entitled “Reminiscence” documented a Mrs O’M.. She complained of constantly hearing

not simply noise, but rather music in her head. Her initial complaint was of hearing

sounds while she was sleeping, but thought the radio had merely been left on. An EEG

showed a high voltage and excitability in both of her temporal lobes, meaning that her

mind was hearing auditory hallucinations of music. Mrs. O'M. described the songs as

having meaning, associated with her life experiences....
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