Muses, Madmen and Prophets

I’m just reading a fantastic book called Muses, Madmen and Prophets: Rethinking the History, Science, and Meaning of Auditory Hallucination (ISBN 9781594201103) – a wonderfully written book on the complex science and history of ‘hearing voices’.

Annoyingly, the book is published under the name ‘Hearing Voices’ (ISBN 041377645X) in the UK. Annoying, because its the same title as many other books, many of which are on completely different topics.

The book looks at the history of the experience, from some of the most influential ‘voice hearers’ in history, such as Socrates and Joan of Arc, to its classification by psychiatry as a key diagnostic sign of schizophrenia, to its reconsideration as part of the normal diversity of mental phenomena.

We now know that there are many more people who hear voices and never become mentally ill compared to those who become acutely impaired or distressed by the experience.

The book looks at the recent research on the neuropsychology of hallucinated voices but also takes wonderful detours into the significance of the experience for understanding notions of free will and intentionality, creativity and inspiration, and madness and the divine.

The author, ex-editor of Atlantic Monthly, brings an interesting personal angle into the work, as both his father and grandfather heard voices to differing degrees.

So far, I’ve found it poetic, wide-ranging and difficult to put down.

If you’re interested in hearing more, Smith discusses his book and investigations on Boston WBUR Radio which you can listen online.

I also just discovered that Neurophilosophy has a great post on a recent case study of a person with brain injury that affected their speech areas who heard hallucinated voices that had a speech impediment.

Link to book info.
Link to discussion on Boston WBUR radio.
Link to Neurophilosophy on ‘Hearing speech impaired voices’.

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