Dr. Oliver Sacks, author and neurologist, in his book, “The Man who mistook his wife for a hat” writes about ‘phantom limbs” – the sensation experienced by patients whose legs had been amputated, causing them to believe that the missing limb continued to be attached to the body. (Dr. V.S.Ramachandran has also done some extraordinary experiments on patients suffering from this delusion and has shared his findings in his book, “Phantoms in the Brain”.)
In a different chapter, Dr. Sacks describes the case of the patient waking up in his hospital bed to find a severed human left leg beside him. Thinking it was a New Year Eve joke played by the staff, he attempts to push it off the bed – and falls to the floor himself. It is, in fact, his own leg, but he is unable to recognize it as belonging to him. What’s more, he is convinced that his own left leg is missing.
What a practical prankster, the brain can be. In the first case, it convinces the person without a real leg that he indeed has one. In the second, it convinces the person with a perfectly good pair of legs that one of them is not really his. Out of the two persons, “who is better off?”, I morbidly reflect. The person who doesn’t have the real legs but, thanks to the phantom sensation, clings to the belief that they are still present. Or, the person who still has the real legs but will refuse to believe that they are his? Tough choice.
Next post : Would you rather be a claustrophobic person who would not step into a car as you feel trapped in a confined space or an agoraphobic person who cannot get out of the car because open and crowded spaces terrify you?