The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks [Book Summary – Review]


One of the things that, make us ourselves, is our brains Our brains; it affects how we think, how we act, and how we remember. The cerebrum often acts predictively for a lot of people and causes to action that society sees as “standard.”

But everyone’s brain does not work normally. The reason can be injury, disease, or genetics, but cerebrum can suffer damaged and start to parafunction. When this event occurs, people can begin to act differently or unusually in almost any standard.

In this summary, you will see the story of people suffering from brain damage and how to build lives around their disability.


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Chapter 1 – The patient’s personality and behavior change due to brain damage.


Think that you are a neuroscientist and encountering three situations:

The first event; Imagine a man making mistakes in the park meters for the children in the game and caressing his “heads” with love. In addition to the incident, his wife’s head is wrong for a hat and causes quite a lot of confusion when trying to wear it.

The second is; A patient in your hospital is constantly in fear and vigilant because he believes that someone has left his leg in his bed. The truth is the disturbing limb itself.

The last event is; although a man understands body language, mimic and tone very well, there is no understanding of tongue

So, what do you think is the connection between these people? Some form of brain damage causes this kind of event.

Without considering whether brain damage is occurred by a tumor, poison, inflammation or stroke, the injury can seriously change or disrupt our talents.



For instance, if the brain overproduces the neurotransmitter dopamine, compulsive twitch can be developed. For this reason, you can start imitating others, screw up your face, and talking slang in an unstoppable way.

Alcoholism causes brain damage, and even this can have serious effects on the mind. For instance, alcohol damage to the hippocampus that causes Korsakow’s syndrome (the name of the syndrome came from a Russian psychiatrist and neurologist who reads alcoholics). Patients suffering from many Korsakow syndromes forget their years and memories and cannot keep new information in their minds.

The strangest and absurd sounding disorders can be caused by brain damage, however sometimes in rare cases, this event can have a positive impact on a person’s life.

This was no different for an 89-year-old woman, and suddenly she began to feel more energetic and more open than ever and even began to flirt with young men. The reason was that neurosyphilis evoked the ancient cerebral cortex.

On the other side, because neurosyphilis can be deadly, she desired to stop her disease from worsening; but she also did not desire to lose the positive effects of feeling young, confident and happy, but wanted to protect.

It can cause brain damage to strange behavior. In the following chapters, we are going to observe at some specific samples of the other odd behavior that it can give rise up.


Chapter 2 – Sometimes its strange reality is created, to compensate for malfunctions, by the brain


In the 1980s, American sailor Jimmie G associated his life history with his doctor. Things that he can easily remember; his childhood streets, his friends and his time at school. When he looked at the events that took place decades ago, he could remember information like everyone else.

However, whenever he explained the part where his time was a radio operator in the Marine Corps, something changed: and abruptly, he has confused between the present time and past time, and he is persuaded that he was the young soldier who was found in World War II 30 years ago. Okay but why?

If the brain is damaged, it invents stories to make the world more sense with the help of compensating for the non-sense world. The brain can be damaged by alcohol, disease, or even brain tumors, and even if it does, absolutely ravishing comments and parallel worlds can be revealed by the brain to make everything look normal again.

Sometimes, too weird tales can be compensated and devised by the brain. In other cases, stories take the form of memory loss which in the patient has been around for a long time.



Jimmie G has forgotten most of his memories over the past 30 years because of alcoholism. For this reason, his brain worked to compensate for this loss and make the world meaningful, and so created a new reality, which he still lived in 1945.

Many patients, like Jimmie G, complain of some form of obstruction to their normal function. If their brains of this kind of people sense like it is in danger, sometimes they can lose their talent to speak or change their body’s perceptions.

Their brains of the patients are building new realities, and that’s why these sufferers live in a world that seems strange for many of us.


Chapter 3 – Strange new perceptions may occur as a result of the visual center being damaged.


Most people are grateful to their eyes for the talent of seeing. But in reality, we should be grateful to our brains!

A significant example of how the brain can affect our visual perception is offered by Dr. P. who is a music professor.

At first view, Dr. P was a regular person who is a charming and well-educated person with a huge sense of humor and ability to playing the piano. Unfortunately, he had got a problem: he had brain damage that is to affect the way he saw things.

For instance, he was going to see faces without faces and begin to caress, because he likened the “heads” of fire hydrants and parking meters to children. He even walked around the grandfather clock because he likened the clocks to them and wanted to offer a warm welcome!

If someone’s vision center is damaged similarly as in Dr. P, the way of perceiving the world can change radically.

There is a connection between the visual center in our brain and our eyes, and even if our eyes are the thing that is responsible for reaching visual stimuli, the visual center provides that connection between what we see to what we have information about it thus we can easily enabling us to define the objects.

In case the visual center is damaged in some way, our talent to understand what we see is destroyed likewise.



Although Dr. P’s eyes labored fine, his issue was in the visual center of his brain. Visual agnosy, that is a deterioration in our ability to recognize the object, can occur if the visual center is damaged.

For instance, a glove could be perceived by Dr. P not as a glove, but as a surface with five awkward protrusions. Even it was said that the gloves could be as a container for coins by Dr. P! He could not look and identify objects as they actually were and instead, he saw only their properties.

Another side, Dr. P had no issue with structures and seeing abstract objects. For instance, playing cards and dice can only be made by identifying their properties. Complex games such as chess which includes checking up the board and thinking his next movement could be played by him.


Chapter 4 – Serious disorders can be caused by excessive brain activity.


Until now, it has been seen at how brain damage could occur the loss of certain functions. Besides, base changes in personality and attitude can also be caused by excessive brain activity.

Sometimes more chemicals could be produced by the specific district of the brain, and also, overproduction has some unusual effects too.

For instance, there is a case related to a woman who forcibly imitates passersby’s acts whereas standing in the middle of the pedestrian area. In just a tenth of a second, she would perceive her subtle mimics of them and begin to imitate the gestures she had perceived in ridiculous ways – and she would only do this for a few seconds. Then she would switch to another person and imitate another person. So, in just two minutes, more than 50 people could be imitated by her.

This woman is dealing with Tourette syndrome caused by excessive dopamine. As she could not control the actions of her body, she was obligated to live without individual identity and inhibitions; so, others could only be imitated by her.



A patient who remembers the world around her for only a few seconds is another interesting case of brain activity. As a result, he first defines his doctor as different individuals and among these people; there is a customer, an old friend, then a butcher and sometimes even Sigmund Freud.

Unfortunately, his life is not somewhat stable, his life is similar to fantasy according to him. Namely; sometimes a character in the ancient Book of Thousand and One Nights. And sometimes; he thinks he is a priest or gourmet food seller. Because he cannot remember the conditions, he constantly adjusts himself to the events around him that he perceives at the moment.

These two patients are also dealing with excessive brain activity, the first causes excessive compulsions and the second one is too enthusiastic fantasies. It is their illness that governs all the beings of both people.


Chapter 5 – A change in perception can be caused by changes in the brain, and long-forgotten memories can be brought back.


One night, a young man thought that he was a dog that completes with an unbelievable feeling of odor. Whereas he woke up, he found that his sense of smell had a considerable extent risen. Thanks to his newfound talents, he provided him to identify whole the malls in New York City juts by their odor! He could smell dozens of partial nuances of brown, and also, feeling like hurting or thrill 

Due to changes in the brain, this change in perception may be encountered. The enhanced sense of odor of the young man was similar to the waking up of the primitive sense of smell; it seemed like he was experiencing our world as they might have experienced; as surviving was too important for our old ancestors. Thus, thanks to brain damage, talents that are lost by modern humans but remain hidden in the brain can be brought back.

Alike, memoirs that sometimes seem long forgotten can be remembered due to changes in the brain, and they can return with surprising clearness.



For example; we can give a case of a young Indian woman and this woman started feeling sluggish and dormant on the left side of her body. The reason that she began to feel powerless and dormant is due to a tumor that sometimes grows in her lobe and sometimes causes seizures.

As a side effect of this tumor, she began to be a dreamer and visually remember her memoirs. Among her visions were the villages that she visited before in addition to the old homes and yards. All her talks, people, music and dances from the far past could be remembered by her.

Then there is the incident of a man who murders his girlfriend under the effect of drugs. During the homicide, he could not recall his movements because of losing his consciousness. Besides, after years, serious contusion in the temporal lobes was experienced by him. For this reason, suddenly, he recalled the terrible memories of the murder night without an uncontrollable way.


Chapter 6 – Auditory hallucinations occur as a result of the warned of the right temporal lobe.


Here is a cynical story: remembers of her childhood was continuously reminded to Mrs. O’C, who is nostalgic, old and almost deaf. Instantaneously, Ms. O’C started to hear old Irish songs that were coming from nowhere. Also, the song wasn’t coming from the radio too – so where could the song come from?

Brain damage points to the answer. Ms. O’C had a stroke in the right temporal lobe in the region of the brain that remembers the basics of music. So, when the music started “playing,” temporary lobe attacks were performed by the brain.

It is the temporal lobe that is responsible for reminiscence and memory, and the reason for the occasional occurrence of music hallucinations are seizures in this part of the brain.



Despite not being an external source of music, melodies were heard by Mrs. O’C, and there was no road to cancel to hearing them anymore! The music, which is in her head, would be so on occasion loud that this event would even prevent her from having a normal conversation; she could not understand other people because of the noise, the noise would make it impossible.

As time went on, the music slowly “returned” and finally permitted her to make contact with as before. Finally, the melodies waned and later on, occasionally happened. The music has gone with them too, whenever the impacts of stroke decreased in time.

The music eventually stopped and although Mrs. O’C, felt like incredibly relieved, realized herself that miss the nostalgic memoirs that her musical remembrances had conveyed.


Chapter 7 – Amazing things can be accomplished by people with brain


 Some people may think that people with intellectual disabilities will have a hard time developing private skills and abilities, but this thinking could not be distant more from the facts.

Besides, by people with mental disabilities, fantastic achievements can be achieved. Even lacks in intellectual ability, people who suffer brain damage can still have ravishing and matchless abilities. These people’s brains, unlike the average brain, can be an expert in specific functions and permit them to put all their focus on personal development.

For example, it is a 61-year-old man who had meningitis in childhood and was later hemiplegic, impulsive, and mentally disabled. He took only primitive education and needs help to take care of himself, but still, there is something very special about him, and this thing; his incredible music memory.

Thanks to this extraordinary ability, he can reminisce over more than 2,000 operas. If you asked him about the singers, stage designs and costumes of each of these operas, he would reply without any difficulty. Besides, he memorizes all the Music and Musicians Dictionary!

Another prefix is ​​that there are twins named John and Michael who suffer from mental hallucinations, including hallucinations and mental health problems, and cannot take care of themselves. Their analytical talents were not so improved that they could not even perform basic addition or subtraction.



But, they could in some way find important mathematical calculations and waste their time contemplating about prime numbers that could not even be found in math numbers. What’s more bewitching is that these two brothers can “see” numbers.

For example, some matches are left in the matchbox by the author, and the twins immediately yelled to say “111!”. The surprising thing is that when the matchboxes are counted, they turned out to be right! The process is defined as something different from the count according to them; more precisely, they “saw” the number 111.

 Although serious disorders are caused by brain damage, brain damage can also induce some surprising and super natural-looking abilities.


The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks Book Review


Thanks to brain mapping, we have learned new information about complex circuits that permit certain talents in the human brain. If these are damaged, it can induce fantastic and truly strange changes in behavior, personality, and perception of the world.


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Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/106467014-sava-ate

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