Oliver Sacks: Hallucinations

Before Christmas I had the pleasure of reading Oliver Sacks’s new book Hallucinations.

Like his other books, this is extremely readable with vivid accounts of his patients’ symptoms leading to a tentative neurological explanation of their often bizarre experiences. In this case I was pleased to find that I had myself experienced a common form of visual hallucination. A few years ago I fell (in trying to catch a frisbee sailing away from my hand) and banged the back of my head. Shortly afterwards half my visual field was filled with wobbly black and white hexagons. I realized I could not drive home with these patterns blocking out half the motorway. By the next day they had gone but in the weeks following I occasionally had the illusion of a large red hexagon taking over my visual field. Continue reading

Neuroscience and education

Neuroscience: implications for education and lifelong learning

I read recently this second of four modules in the Royal Society Brainwaves series on neuroscience and society.

It makes a strong case for people in education to be aware of the promise of a scientific approach to education when neuroscience can tell us more about the workings of the brain. It is, however, disappointing in that there are as yet no “biological” tests for such well-known conditions as dyslexia. Practitioners still have to rely on psychological / behavioural tests for diagnosing such disabling condition. Continue reading


Some friends have attended a meeting in a Birmingham suburb full of retired teachers called with the purpose of setting up a University of the Third Age in the area. It was packed with interested people and a further meeting has been called for this week.

I was talking to one of them about the Observer article that I wrote about in this blog last week – about first class courses free online – and we agreed that some of the U3A group might like to access these courses and study them together.

I look forward to hearing whether anyone has taken this up.

Learning for free

The thing that got Breakthrough to Learning into MMHS in the first place was making the course available free to anyone on the internet. This seemed to me to be a good use of the digital revolution – and it has certainly paid off.

About twenty years ago I attended a conference organized by the Society of Authors. At this event it became clear that, with the international availability of information through the internet, there was no way that copyright could be defended. This is hard luck for authors but wonderful for readers. My life has been transformed by Wikipedia, another free service set up by people who want to share knowledge without profiting from it (though they seem to be hard up at the moment). Continue reading