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, ‚Äò‚ÄòBizarre Situations‚Äô‚Äô, from the collection ‚Äò‚ÄòOn the Yankee Station‚Äô‚Äô, 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‚Äôs 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.