TEDxNewYork is held at GreyNY, 200 Fifth Avenue. We meet every week (mostly) on Fridays now and (mostly) from 1-2pm. We are open to the public. If you want to attend, send a note to admin@tedxnewyork.com (that's Don McKinney & Chel O'Reilly) with your vitals. Our biggest limitation is space so give us plenty of notice and we'll do our best to accommodate. Hope to see you at one of our events soon.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Session 4: See- Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks isn't talking about Musicophilia, he's talking about "seeing". He's slide-show-free.

We see with our eyes, but we see with our minds too. Hallucinations, however, are a different matter.

He had a patient who was in a nursing home who was having them. However, she had been blind from macular degeneration for five years. The details of her hallucinations are rather beautiful though they were silent. At the age of 95 I can guess she was feeling haunted by sights that weren't memories. People, animals... She feared she was losing her mind. She was healthy as could be in all other ways.

Sacks diagnosed her with Charles Bonnet Syndrome. Some people have musical hallucinations. Bonnet's grandfather had it. Approx 10% of the visually impaired suffer from these, but only around 1% are diagnosed because of the fear of telling anyone that they might be called insane. These are not psychotic hallucinations because those are seductive or interactive.

Basically the unused parts of the brain for vision basically get... restless and hyperactive. These episodes and examples Sacks is giving are from many different people and sound both fantastic and scary. It's good to be diagnosed instead of living in fear of what is going on.

Doing a functional MRI during a hallucination shows that the hallucinations are in many different areas of the brain. Buildings and landscapes are different from faces are different from geometric ones. This speaks to the visual parts of the brain- those are in many places.

He wanted most to educate that these are common and knowing that should give some comfort. Bonnet called this the theater of the mind in relation to the machine of the brain and now we have the technology to understand it better.

Sacks is impaired himself and has experienced the geometric ones himself. He says it doesn't bother him any more than his tinnitus. (One of my biggest fears in life is tinnitus so that sounds pretty horrible to me.)

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