Friday, October 26, 2007

the man who mistook his wife for a hat

I've been an Oliver Sacks fan for years. I've read many of his books, from "The man who mistook his wife for a hat" to "Uncle Tungsten: memories of a chemical boyhood." So imagine my excitement when I found an article about him in last Saturday's Good Weekend, which showed he is just as much of an oddity as the people he writes about with such sympathy and insight.

Don't know about you, but I'm fascinated with so-called "abnormal" human psychology. I love learning about the amazing variants of the human mind. I enjoy films like "Rain man" and "A beautiful mind". I've read lots of books which open a window into the autistic mind, like Mark Haddon's "The curious incident of the dog in the night time", Daniel Tammet's "Born on a blue day" and Temple Grandin's "Emergence: labeled autistic".

At the moment, I'm reading Jeff Bell's "Rewind, replay, repeat", a first-person account of OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (a bit strong on the whole inner believer / higher power dynamic for my taste, but still interesting!)

My favourite Oliver Sacks case study is about an artist who lost the ability to perceive colours when the relevant portion of his brain was damaged. The world not only lost its colour, but became heavy and ominous, a hideous place where he no longer felt at home. Once a painter in love with colour, his paintings are now dull, grey and leaden, a way of sharing how he sees the world. Sacks also writes of an island community where the majority of the population are unable to perceive colour, and how this influences the way they speak of the world.

Why do I love reading these case studies? I think it's because they reveal the amazing intricacies of the human mind. They give me insight into the issues others have to deal with, like a friend whose son is autistic. They help me understand myself, because I see my own weaknesses mirrored in a more extreme form. I enjoy learning about the techniques, courage and persistence used to find healing. And where healing is not possible, it's inspiring to see how people can overcome the disadvantages, and even enjoy the opportunities, of a different way of thinking.

I am in awe of how wonderfully God made the human mind, with all its complexities. But the original beauty of the human mind has been marred by sin and suffering. Our minds are all damaged, at least to some extent. I look forward to the day when all who trust in Jesus - autistic, mentally ill, brain-damaged, and so-called "normal" - will find our hurts healed and our wholeness restored, when we worship God together in a place beyond suffering.

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