V. S. Ramachandran is a neurologist, and someone whom I can listen to for hours. He is fascinated by, and fascinating about, all aspects of the human mind – particularly the more unusual manifestations of behaviour.
He’s probably best known for his work on the phantom limb syndrome, but recently he’s been looking at its converse: apotemnophilia, or the desire that some people have to have a perfectly healthy limb amputated.
Edge have posted a video (and transcript) of him talking about these, and other syndromes under the title of Adventures In Behavioral Neurology—Or—What Neurology Can Tell Us About Human Nature.
We saw a patient recently who was a prominent dean of an engineering school and soon after he retired he came out and said he wants his left arm amputated above the elbow. Here’s a perfectly normal guy who has been living a normal life in society interacting with people. He’s never told anybody that he harbored this secret desire—intense desire—to have his arm amputated ever since early childhood, and he never came out and told people about it for fear that they might think he was crazy. He came to see us recently and we tried to figure out what was going on in his brain. And by the way, this disorder is not rare. There are websites devoted to it. About one-third of them go on to actually get it amputated. Not in this country because it’s not legal, but they go to Mexico or somewhere else and get it amputated.
It’s worth listening to.