Tag Archive: psychology

brainThe final section of case studies in Oliver Sacks’ ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat’ is called ‘The World of the Simple’.

The first of the four essays examines the case of a young woman called Rebecca who, because of a number of physical and neurological handicaps, had spent her life being branded as a moron.

Sacks admits that he also initially regarded her as little more than a “broken creature” and something of a hopeless case. The neurological tests he carried out only served to confirm her retarded state. But when he saw her outside the clinic, he formed an entirely different impression.

He witnessed her instinctive and serene response to nature then later observed that when she danced or performed in theatre workshops she exhibited none of the awkwardness and clumsiness he had assumed was her permanent condition.

All this forced him to question how such subjects are judged; he wrote: “I thought, as I watched her on the bench – enjoying not just a simple but a sacred view of nature – our approach, our ‘evaluations’, are ridiculously inadequate”.

Reading this chapter made me reflect how the same inadequacies Sacks described can routinely be found in our educational institutions. For instance, standardized testing in schools is,at best, only a measure of one aspect of a young child’s intelligence. Continue reading


FLOW by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Harper Collins, 1991)

This is not a self-help book but readers should gain some modicum of enlightenment from a study of the psychology of optimal experience.

In layman’s terms the Hungarian psychologist (who works in California) sets out to discover what makes humans feel happy and fulfilled. A definite plus from his findings is that this a life skill that can be enjoyed by anyone since “money, power, status and possessions do not, by themselves, necessarily add one iota to the quality of life”.

Anecdotal evidence to substantiate this is provided by surgeons, musicians or chess players but the theory is deemed to be equally applicable to all walks of life including plumbers or mechanics. More than once I was reminded of Pirsig’s Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which covers similar territory in more poetic terms. Continue reading

PSYCHOLOGY FOR EVERYMAN (and woman) by A.E Mander (The Thinker’s Library, Watts & Co. 1935)

psychologyI picked this book up for 50p in a second-hand bookshop many moons ago. I was particularly drawn to the bracketed ‘and woman’ of the title (in a smaller font!) as if the fairer sex was something of an afterthought and tagged on by the publishers to ward off accusations of sexism.

Aussie thinker, Alfred Earnest Mander works on the basis that most people (i.e. men and women) don’t know what they need to make them happy and are psychologically moulded at an early age. This somewhat bleak summation of human existence is tempered by the reckless claim that, after finishing this 100 page book,  the reader will be in a position to “judge what want is at the back of any given person’s feelings and conduct”. 

Later, he takes a reality check implying that, since “we are bundles of conflicting personalities”. this slim volume can only hope to scratch the surface of a huge and complex topic.

Mander finds solace in platitudes, observing that “much unhappiness is caused by ‘inner conflict” and that cravings for romance, love, wealth, power, excitement and adventure are met in novels and movies but all too rarely in real life.

The only advice he offers is to train ourselves to cultivate what he calls ‘Master habits’  like never putting off a difficult or disagreeable task and “doing everything with a conscious effort to do it as well as possible ……..sparing no pains to make it perfect”. 

As a cure-all for our multi-faceted cravings, this common sense advice is seriously limited but I suppose we all have to start somewhere!


‘This is Your Brain on Music’ is a fascinating book about connections – exploring how emotional links are made through memories and interactions while listening to or performing music.

Daniel Levitin starts from the basics, asking the question ‘What is music?’ –  examining what it is about music that makes us obsess about it.  He writes: “the emotions we experience in response to music involve structures deep in the primitive reptilian regions of the cerebelar vermis, and the amygdala – the heart of emotional processing in the cortex”. A phrase like this, taken out of context, sounds a bit dry but he manages to weave such information into a text rich in anecdotal asides and down to earth examples. Continue reading

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