Alien hands in fiction

Alien or anarchic hand syndrome is where you lose conscious control of one of your hands after brain damage, to the point where it seems to have a ‘will of its own’. There’s a great short article in this month’s Cortex examining how this curious phenomenon has appeared in fiction.

Famously, something similar appears in the film Dr Strangelove to the point where the disorder is sometimes called the ‘Dr Strangelove syndrome’.

But it turns out that self-directed hands have also appeared in numerous other works of fiction. I was particularly taken by this plot device:

The phenomenon is usually accounted for as resulting from lesions to the contralateral Supplementary Motor Area (SMA). However, it has also been associated to the severance of the Corpus Callosum and William Boyd, in his short story, ‘‘Bizarre Situations’’, from the collection ‘‘On the Yankee Station’’, embraced this anatomical interpretation of the syndrome. The main character of this novel, who underwent a callosotomy, does not know whether or not his left hand shot his best friend’s wife dead.

The Cortex article is by neuropsychologist Sergio Della Salla who has done a great deal of the research on this condition himself and who also wrote a great article on the condition for The Psychologist back in 2005.

However, it misses out one of the most famous depictions of a hand with a ‘mind of its own’ – from the film The Evil Dead II – where Ash’s hand becomes possessed and he ends up having to chainsaw it off. There’s a clip of the scene here, which is a bit icky if you’re not into that sort of thing.

Link to ‘Dr Strangelove syndrome’ in literature.

3 Comments

  1. Posted November 10, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Great reference to Bruce Campbell. Got to love his work.

  2. Posted November 11, 2009 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Bruce is s slapstick comedy genius.
    Don’t forget the ultimate alien hand in Stephen King’s short story, “I Am the Doorway”, where an astronaut returned from space carrying a critter that split open his hand, its eye looking out from his palm. Creepy.

  3. Mark(p.s.)
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    re”However, it misses out one of the most famous depictions of a hand with a ‘mind of its own’…and he ends up having to chainsaw it off.”
    You don’t know your bible?
    Matthew 5:30
    “And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee”


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