Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Hearing Voices and the Borders of Sanity

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9780143113157: Muses, Madmen, and Prophets: Hearing Voices and the Borders of Sanity

An inquiry into hearing voices-one of humanity's most profound phenomena

Auditory hallucination is one of the most awe-inspiring, terrifying, and ill- understood tricks of which the human psyche is capable. In the age of modern medical science, we have relegated this experience to nothing more than a biological glitch. Yet as Daniel B. Smith puts forth in Muses, Madmen, and Prophets, some of the greatest thinkers, leaders, and prophets in history heard, listened to, and had dialogues with voices inside their heads. In a fascinating quest for understanding, Smith examines the history of this powerful phenomenon, and delivers a ringing defense of the validity of unusual human experiences.

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About the Author:

Daniel B. Smith is a New York-based journalist and author. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Granta, and n+1.

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Smith's father and grandfather both heard voices, and thereby hangs the tale Smith tells at the outset, and also his interest in the phenomenon of hearing people speak when no one else can and without otherwise sensing them. Research indicates that hearing voices isn't all that rare; that many cope well with it, belying its association with madness; and that so many parts of the brain are involved in audition that finding those responsible for hearing voices may be impossible. Smith proceeds from present-day science to the nineteenth-century labeling of hearing voices as hallucinatory, and then to famous cases of it, most of them preceding but one during its pathologization. Socrates (Smith posits that the voices the philosopher heard affected his sentencing to death), Joan of Arc, and a German jurist who largely recovered from schizophrenic voice hearing are the three figures about whom Smith writes so intelligently and absorbingly that one wishes he had covered others he notes, especially William Blake, as fully. One also wants to read more of him, on any subject he chooses. Ray Olson
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