I often listen to audiobooks while I paint, and recently I’ve listened to some by Oliver Sacks. A well-known neuroscientist and doctor, he wrote fascinating case studies about the many patients with unusual conditions he encountered. I’ve loved his books for years (they were what first inspired my interest in neuroscience, the field I work in), and I’ve read most of them already. Re-listening to them reminded me of a passage about one patient which stuck with me through the years:
"She...sees a cat--a grey cat with "beautiful" eyes which wears a serene, ‘beautiful expression’ on its face and seems to be of a most friendly disposition....She enjoys visits from the grey cat and worries that ‘something may happen to him.’ Though she knows the cat is a hallucination, he seems very real to her: she can hear him coming, feel the warmth of his body, and touch him if she wishes." (from Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks)
In my opinion, this quote emphasizes the degree to which we are complete prisoners of our own senses and of our own brain: our reality is indeed entirely constructed within the brain, usually based on whatever information we gather sensorially. The cat, which the woman even consciously knows is hallucinated, appears completely real to her and is an important part of her experience of reality. This then leads me to consider just how fragile our reality is, and how easily our perception of the world can become twisted. Unless our misperceptions or hallucinations defy logic, how are we even to know (aside from perhaps relying on others for confirmation) whether our “reality” is indeed real? It is, in part, my fascination with our brain’s construction of the world around us and our experience of “reality” that draws me to surrealism. One could define surrealism as something that appears real but defies logic, and many people’s hallucinations would fall into this category. The gray area between reality and unreality is endlessly interesting to me, and I try to walk this line with my artwork.
In general, I greatly recommend any and all of Oliver Sacks’ books, and I’ll probably write about them again on here at some point!