E's Reviews > A Leg to Stand On

A Leg to Stand On by Oliver Sacks
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M 50x66
's review
May 23, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: 2010, bodies, memoir-bio

My attention ebbed and flowed as Sacks recounted his own experiences of first being injured by a bull in Norway, becoming a patient and then convalescing, but the last chapter and the 1993 afterword, when he generalizes about the alienation he felt from his injured leg, are really excellent peeks into the world of neuropsychology. Criticizing classical neurology for being too focused on a Humean understanding of empirical science and neglecting experiences of "self" in favour of a focus on disturbances of function, Sacks argues that the sort of "severe disturbances of body-image and body-ego" he (and many of his patients) experienced "occur as a result of peripheral injury, disease or disorder." Instead, what is needed is a scientific revolution that considers the consciousness of body parts, a "clinical ontology" that essentially amounts to a detour into Kantian reason (later, and I think unfortunately, renounced in the afterword):

"I saw clearly that such experiences were physiological in origin, but equally that they could not be fitted into the classical model. It was clear to me that we needed a 'neurology of identity,' a neurology which could explain how different parts of the body (and their space) could be 'owned' (or 'lost'), a neurological basis for the coherence and unification of perception (especially after this had been disturbed by damage or disease). We needed a neurology which could escape from the rigid dualism of body/mind, the rigid physicalist notions of algorithm and template, a neurology which could match the richness and density of experience, its sense of scene and music, its personeity, its ever-changing flow of experience, of history, of becoming [...:] Such phenomenological changes require a formulation in terms not of systems, but of selves; require a neurology of identity; require a theory of identity, memory, 'space,' which can knit them together, show them as inseparable, aspects of a single, global process. They need, in short, a biological theory of consciousness."

I wonder how these theories and concepts have changed/evolved in the 17 years since the afterword was included.

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message 1: by Leah (new)

Leah I like this.

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