In the everyday world, you don’t see the people who end up on psychiatric in-patient units, or at least you don’t see them sick … I saw a man brought in for treatment because he had been found in his kitchen, holding his wife’s bloody heart in his hands, a carving knife beside him on the floor. I remember a woman, a graduate student in comparative literature in one of the best schools in the country, with long, golden hair. But she hunched over with her hair across her face and her misery was so palpable that my throat choked up as if I would cry.
Most people who end up in a psychiatric hospital are deeply unhappy and seriously disturbed, and many of them lead lives of humiliation and great pain … It used to be fashionable to say that madness didn’t really exist at all, that it had been created when society’s quest for order defined some people as deviant. Grand sociologic theories claimed that psychiatry punished those who were merely eccentric or unconventional. Madness is real, and it is an act of moral cowardice to treat it as a romantic freedom.
Excerpt from “The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat" by Oliver Sacks:
I had stopped at a florist on my way to his apartment and bought myself an extravagant red rose for my buttonhole. Now I removed this and handed it to him. He took it like a botanist or morphologist given a specimen, not like a person given a flower.
"About six inches in length," he commented. "A convoluted red form with a linear green attachment." "Yes," I said encouragingly, "and what do you think it is, Dr P.?”
"Not easy to say." He seemed perplexed. "It lacks the simple symmetry of the Platonic solids, although it may have a higher symmetry of its own. …I think this could be an inflorescence or flower."
"Could be?" I queried
"Could be," he confirmed.
"Smell it," I suggested, and he again looked somewhat puzzled, as if I had asked him to smell a higher symmetry. But he complied courteously, and took it to his nose. Now, suddenly, he came to life. "Beautiful!" he exclaimed. "An early rose. What a heavenly smell!" He started to hum "Die Rose, die Lilie …”
Reality, it seemed, might be conveyed by smell, not by sight.
2 million neurones;
14 billion synapses;
12 kilometres of myelinated fibres;
Are destroyed each minute.