Tuesday, July 30, 2013

From the history of phantom limb sensations:

(form Hallucinations O. Sacks, and Phantoms in the brain V. S. Ramachandran).

Two Double Nudes (1959) by Joseph Beuys 
Reflecting upon the nature and origin of phantom limb sensations may give a specific insight to the body mind relation. One can trace changes in the interpretations of this phenomena throughout the history - from more spiritual ones to entirely scientific...  

Descartes was reflecting on the problem in Meditations on First Philosophy, placing in the fact that some people whose arm or leg have been amputated still occasionally feel pain in the missing limb, the basic distrust towards the body: “this lead me to think that I could not be quite certain even that any one of my members was affected when I felt pain”

Phantom limbs as bodily hallucinations appear very late in the literature (unlike visual or auditory hallucination). In 1870 Silas Weir Mitchell first gave them the name – but introduces the issue initially in form of a fiction story (“The case of George Dedlow”) published anonymously. It’s a story about a man who loses his legs in the war, and then through the help of an eclectic doctor and a medium rejoins the spirit of his missing legs for one session – in which he can even walk on them. Later  in “Injuries of nerves” (1872) Mitchell writes in the still quite “spiritual style” about the topic: “Nearly every man who loses a limb carries about with him a constant or inconstant phantom of the missing member , a sensory ghost of that much of himself. “

Lord Nelson would also write about his phantom sensations of arm that he lost in the battle of Santa Cruz (1942) as a “direct evidence for the existence of the soul” “For if arm can exist after it is removed why can’t the whole person survive physical annihilation of the body”.

Olivier Sacks after explaining neurological mechanisms of phantom limbs sensations provides kind of intriguing reflection on the subject phantoms are already in place, "revealed so to speak by the act of amputation".  
This lead me to questions: How can a complete body understand the phenomenon of phantom sensation? How can one reveal the phantom body?

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