Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The brain...

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?


Usha said...

Oh my god, this reminds me of some of the stuff that actor Vivek comes up with in his comedy - and i mean that as a compliment.

Anu said...

I read about the first situation somewhere. I believe one has pains and itches as if the leg was there. Imagine, wanting to scratch the itch and not not being able to! I somehow find even the thought unbearable.

Raj said...

Usha, thanks

Anu,interestingly, Dr Ramachandran writes in his book that the 'phantom limb' can actually be rid of the itch, by scratching a certain point in the face whose sensation is controlled by the same part of the brain that used to control the real leg.