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Alien Hand

Absolutely fascinating:

Imagine being attacked by one of your own hands, which repeatedly tries to slap and punch you. Or you go into a shop and when you try to turn right, one of your legs decides it wants to go left, leaving you walking round in circles.

Last summer I met 55-year-old Karen Byrne in New Jersey, who suffers from Alien Hand Syndrome.

Her left hand, and occasionally her left leg, behaves as if it were under the control of an alien intelligence.

Karen’s condition is fascinating, not just because it is so strange but because it tells us something surprising about how our own brains work.

The man who did many of the experiments that first proved this was neurobiologist, Roger Sperry.

In a particularly striking experiment, which he filmed, we can watch one of the split brain patients trying to solve a puzzle. The puzzle required rearranging blocks so they matched the pattern on a picture.

First the man tried solving it with his left hand (controlled by the right hemisphere), and that hand was pretty good at it.

Then Sperry asked the patient to use his right hand (controlled by the left hemisphere). And this hand clearly did not have a clue what to do. So the left hand tried to help, but the right hand did not want help, so they ended up fighting like two young children.

Experiments like this led Sperry to conclude that “each hemisphere is a conscious system in its own right, perceiving, thinking, remembering, reasoning, willing, and emoting”.

In 1981 Sperry received a Nobel prize for his work.

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