Sacks on self

I’ve mentioned the concept that maladies of the body – pain and perhaps gastrointestinal and heart issues – have an emotional component e.g. people who suffer these problems are not emotionally “balanced.” To put it another way, “who you are” can have an affect on your physical state. This is a point of view that seems to be gaining traction but only in very recent times. And yet, I just stumbled across this in Oliver Sack’s 1985 book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.”

The patient’s essential being is very relevant in the higher reaches of neurology, and in psychology; for here the patient’s personhood is essentially involved, and the study of disease and identity cannot be disjoined. Such disorders, and their depiction and study, indeed entail a new discipline, which we may call the ‘neurology of identity’, for it deals with the neural foundations of the self, the age old problem of mind and brain. It is possible that there must, of necessity, be a gulf, a gulf of category, between the psychical and the physical; but studies and stories pertaining simultaneously and inseparably to both – and it is these which especially fascinate me, and which (on the whole) I present here – may nonetheless serve to bring them nearer, to bring us to the very intersection of mechanism and life, to the relation of physiological processes to biography.

To be clear, I presume Sacks is not talking about emotional sources of physical pain or dysfunction but rather neurological issues that attack the very fabric of a person’s “self.” (Say, having complete memory loss.) But he does argue for a connection between “mind” and body, between physiological processes and biography (e.g. “who you are.”) This seems to be a view very ahead of its time.

3 Responses to “Sacks on self”


  1. John Saleeby

    Oliver Sacks? How about Oliver SUCKS!?! HAW HAW HAW!!!

  2. Wil

    Heh -that’s pretty good actually. I’ll bet Sacks would get a laugh out of that…. WHILE HE SURGICALLY REMOVED HALF OF YOUR BRAIN!!!!

  3. John Saleeby

    I’m working on an “Oliver Socks” joke. I’ll get back to you once I get it all worked out.