A short note on Chapter 9 ‘Altered States’ in Oliver Sacks’ book – Hallucinations

Hallucinations_by_Oliver_Sacks_cover I was recently reading Oliver Sacks’ book on Hallucinations when I got to p90 and there was a Chapter entitled Altered States. I was suddenly gripped by an off-the-wall account of the author’s experiences with substances. By way of contrast it reminded me of an article by journalist and commentator Charlie Brooker. In an effort to make some ‘clever’ point about how newspapers are the real drug we should be scared of Brooker gave a limp account of his past use of substances. acid He dismissed all of his past substance use and says that he is ‘sickeningly lily-livered, by choice rather than necessity’. He says that he would ‘sooner saw of [his] own feet of than touch anything harder than a double espresso’. I think it’s the reason that Sack’s account was more interesting to me than Brooker’s account is twofold – apart from the obvious that it wasn’t trying to make some convoluted point about newspapers.

  1. The idea that clever people take drugs too and they can provide adventurous accounts that showcase their erudition

I like sacks’ account because it is not some sort of cliched ‘not even once’ meth account of drug taking. While there are many instances of lives being ruined by drug use and even Sacks seems to have been derailed a bit by it is refreshing to see someone writing about experiences in a way that showcases both their learning and the operation of the human mind. When Sacks decided  to take Morphine he didn’t just take morphine. He had been hallucinating the battle of Agincourt, in vivid detail, on his arm for close to twelve hours straight. When Sacks decided to take 20 anti-parkinsonian pills (containing artane- a synthetic drug allied to belladonna) he holds a conversation with spider, in his kitchen, mostly on technical matters of analytic philosophy. The spider asked Sacks whether he felt that the Bertrand Russell had exploded Frege’s paradox? artane (2) The notion & (partial) fantasy that people can take substances and it will enhance their brilliance  When Sacks was looking for inspiration when writing about migraines he downed a sugared draft of amphetamine and old book On Megrim, Sick-Headache, and some Allied Disorders: A contribution to the Pathology of Nerve-storms suddenly captured Sacks’ imagination in a whole new way. Migraine_(Oliver_Sacks_book) Under the influence of the amphetamines Sacks plower through the 500 page book and found himself almost becoming the author and seeing the patients he described. He says that the book gave him what he had been hungering for during the months when he had actually been seeing patients with migraine and been frustrated by thin impoverished articles on the subject. The next day when he was coming down, before returning the book to the library, he photocopied the whole thing and that was the genesis of his book on migraines. Sources  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/mar/22/charlie-brooker-newspapers-dangerous-drug Hallucinations, Oliver Sacks


A short note – The internal world of the schizoid


Some people do not appear interested in social relationships and incline towards solitary relationships and pursuits. They come across as aloof and emotionally cold. The people I am talking about are ‘schizoids’ who are fundamentally characterised by one central defence mechanism that of withdrawal.

This withdrawal can be more or less geographical as in the situation where a man retreats to his den or to some other remote location whenever the world is too much for him, or internal, as in the situation of the woman who goes through the motions of being present while attending mostly to internal fantasies and preoccupations. It is a defensive strategy to protect from overstimulation, traumatic impingement and invalidation. It leads to a loss of flexible human contact, the inability to master new situations and a constant flight into established habits.

Some Schizoids may even give the outward appearance of being able to express a great deal of feeling and to make what appear to be impressive social contacts yet in reality they give nothing and lose nothing. This schizoid is able to disown the part which he is playing and thus is able to preserve his own personality intact and immune from comprise.

Schizoid individuals find it hard to interact meaningfully with others because they do not understand the repression of thought necessary for ordinary social exchange. Schizoids are undefended against the nuances of their more primal thoughts, feelings and impulses. Similarly they are able to pick up on this in others and can be remarkably attended to the unconscious processes in others. What is obvious to them is often invisible to less schizoid people. Schizoids find it difficult to ignore this ‘hidden’ information and are thus further delimited in their range of exchange.


More than a Pathology

This schizoid temperament is a problem, yes, but it is also this same hidden information and conversation that schizoid individuals carry on with themselves that gives them access to an elevated form of expression and communication.

Example 1

In Merleau-Ponty’s 1945 essay ‘Cezanne’s doubt’ the inseparability of artist Paul Cezanne’s schizoid temperament and his art are emphasised : –

[I]t reveals a metaphysical meaning to his illness (schizothymia as the reduction of the world to the totality of frozen appearances and the suspension of expressive values); because the illness thus ceases being an absurd fact and destiny to become a general existence confronting, in a consistent, principled way, one of its paradoxes – the phenomenon of expression because in this to be schizoid and to be Cezanne are one and the same thing. It is therefore impossible to separate creative freedom from that behaviour, as far as possible from deliberate, already evident in Cezanne’s first gestures as a child and in the way he reacted to things.

Example 2

Kafka offers another perfect example of the linkage of the schizoid process with an elevated mode of art and communication. In his personal life he was intensely involved with a woman called Felice Bauer for five years, sometimes sending her several letters a day. Bauer lived in Berlin and Kafka lived in Prague. During their five years that they were engaged they met only ten times, often for not more than an hour or two. His letters are fraught with anxiety about where Felice was going, who she was seeing, what she was eating or who she was wearing. Kafka demanded instant replies to his letters and was enraged when he did not receive them. He proposed twice, broke it off twice and the letter never took place. The only more disturbing than separation from Felice for Kafka was her presence.

It was, however, this same fragmented manner of relating to people from childhood that informed his works. His writings are full of the themes and archetypes of alienation, physical and psychological brutality and parent-child conflict.




W. R. D. Fairbairn- ‘Psychoanalytic Studies of the Personality’. pp 16-17

The Examined Life – Stephen Grosz

The Malmaison – an overrated ‘dirty weekends’ hotel


The Malmaison is a hotel that you don’t realise you don’t like till near the end of your stay. It sort of tries to be cute and ends up annoying you. So when I first arrived in I thought this is pretty trendy and moody. This is by far my favourite  hotel room so far.


As the week went on though little things started to crop up. The first thing was the very cool toilet and sink were actually not so cool. They were designed in such a way as I could not get close enough to the mirror to put in my contact lenses or shave.


The second thing was that the Malmaison is clearly branding itself as a dirty weekends hotel despite the inclusion of an advertisement downstairs inviting you to book a stay for your mother *shudders*. Throughout the hallways there are black and white pictures of women and men getting it on but in supposedly tasteful ways – like a woman’s nails digging into a man’s back or a woman starting to remove her underwear. (Which I suppose is fine – for one night!). The assault isn’t confined to the hallways though – inside the room the shampoo asks you are you ‘getting jiggly with the figgy?'(fig shampoo) and beside the minibar is a picture of a woman on top of a man stopping and saying wait let’s break and have refreshments. That and the ‘secret possessions’ bra somebody forgot to clean up from the last stay started to really get on my nerves.

The third thing was that the wifi kept cutting out and inviting you to sign back in via Facebook or gmail. A serious pain in the hole!

The fourth and final thing was the heading at the top of the bill titled ‘the damage’. This is supposed to be clever but actually is nothing to be getting smart about – the hotel is quite expensive and it is nothing to be making light of. I talked to a guy in the office and he talked about staying in the Malmaison in Newcastle and being charged for toothpaste.


So in the spirit of the my reading of the connected company –

‘Customers are adopting disruptive technologies faster than your company can adapt. When your customers are delighted, they can amplify your message in ways that were never before possible. But when your company’s performance runs short of what you’ve promised, customers can seize control of your brand message, spreading their disappointment and frustration faster than you can keep up.’

I write about my experience so that the Malmaison can improve its customer experience. My message to you Malmaison – I am looking forward to going to the much more basic Britannia Sachs hotel on Tibb street because it might actually do things properly and not lose sight of being  hotel because it has notions about itself.

Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality

After a couple of months of a psychoanalysis book hiatus I started reading them again. I picked up where I left off with Rollo May’s ‘Love & Will’. It’s discussion of the interrelationship of love and will was a little heavy for me at the time …but at the end of the day the books; they are me.

To paraphrase a Rilke reference in ‘Love & Will’ – if I get rid of my demons, my angels might follow too. I have to recognise that reading psychoanalysis has brought me down some good roads as well as some bad roads. It has lead me into the forest of self-persecution with horrible Winnicottian and Kleinian ideas that seem to represent some sort of dark and terrible truth that you cannot unlearn. But it has also introduced me to the ‘unconditional positive regard’, ‘congruence’ and acceptance of Carl Rogers. It has allowed me to find out the importance of relationships, it has generated the concepts and symbols that have allowed me to paint and it has given me an insight into people that I might not otherwise of had.


The problem is that people don’t like being analysed but funnily enough the solution to this can be found in another book. In ‘Gestalt Therapy-Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality’ when talking about the different neurotic defences it refers to introjection. For the uninitiated what introjection refers to is the incorporation of the characteristics of another person or object into one’s psyche unconsciously. Now this book did something very interesting it linked it back eating in ‘Experiment 15: Introjecting and Eating’. The book draws a link between eating food fast without chewing and not chewing through the meat of life and relationships.

It then goes about painting a portrait of the orally under-developed person. Who likes to drink a lot because drinking is easier than eating. It is at this point that I start to get uncomfortable like when Karen Horney talks about ‘neurotic pride’ or I read anything written by Winnicott. I must, however, link this back to the original question – How does this solve the problem of reading these books which makes you analyse the people (which they don’t like)? Well here’s what it does – the portrait of this quick eater/ drinker offers a portrait of a person who ‘wants to enter into immediate confluence without preparatory contact with the other person. His acquaintance of the moment becomes a pal to whom he will ‘pour out his heart’ (note the use of liquids) He bypasses those parts of his personality which would exercise discrimination; and then; on the basis of these supposedly deep and sincere but actually most superficial contacts, he comes forth with impatient, extravagant demands?

So there it is the uncomfortable and accurate answer. The emotional statement that you are thinking or analysing too much or that you are not being present in the moment received intellectual reinforcement. Now maybe it should not have taken such a long route to understand that that bullshitty, piddly banter is required to make close friends who aren’t loon bags but I guess I need something a little better than you’re questions are really ‘bad buzz’ and I want good ‘buzz’.


So banter and chat then need to be attended to with the same effort as the deep analysis …who would have thunk it? So the book gives me this and then it goes on to give me something else.

Back in the game – the books are giving me something again. So we have banter being good and then we go onto contact with the ‘actuality’ of life. What is this you may ask? Well let’s explain it like this – A lot of the books talk about a defining feature of neurosis being the alienation of parts of the self from the self and not interacting with the present but instead making a major enterprise about of inhibiting and structuring behaviour. Contacting the actuality then is what you’re supposed to be doing i.e. Being in the thick of it. The book talks about a creative form of sort of suspended attention. You ask about conflicts and this book says ‘fuck conflicts’. It goes what has deliberate trying to deal with conflicts ever brought you.

It says just do stuff and let the conflicts play out in this creative zone and the right stuff will just flood into the gap without you knowing exactly what you’re doing. Now we’re getting somewhere.


It talks about ‘the spontaneous absorption of final contact[…having…] no need of such motivation, for there are no other possibilities; one cannot choose otherwise. The feeling of absorption is ‘self-forgetful’; it attends completely to its object, and since this object fills the entire field – anything else is experienced as to the interest of the object – the object becomes a ‘thou’, it is what is addressed. The ‘I’ lapses altogether into this attentive feeling; we speak of being ‘all ears, all eyes’ for instance in hearing the great music one ‘forgets himself and is all ears’, and any possible ‘It’ simply becomes an interest of the ‘Thou’.