Strange Love

Help! My Left Hand
Is Trying to Choke Me

If you think that the man who mistook his wife for a hat was out of his mind, you’ve got something else coming for you. Since 1908, scientists have recorded cases of people with one of their hands acting as if it has a mind of its own.
Take a 67-year-old man whose identity shall remain unknown, who was reported having a very special left hand that would do whatever it pleased, and often “crept and crawled” to its own amusement.
As a 1997 medical journal article reports, one night the man awoke grasping for air and had to forcefully grab his own hand from his collar, for its was trying to throttle him.
As it goes, way before Dr. Oliver Sachs became known for studying strange behaviors of the human mind, some of them documented in the book about the man and his hat, or rather, his wife, Stanley Kubrick was on to something.
Neurologists nicknamed what’s known as the alien hand disorder, the “Dr. Strangelove syndrome,” after the unforgettable title character portrayed by Peter Sellers in Kubrick’s 1964 film. The character, loosely based on Eric van Stroheim’s role as a German officer in Jean Renoir’s 1937 “Grand Illusion,” was later memorably spoofed by Kenneth Mars in Mel Brooks’s 1974 “Young Frankenstein.”
Such storied fictional role, however rich of meaning in the creation of the three genius of the cinema, has nothing on the real thing, an affliction that results when the ability of the brain’s two hemispheres to communicate is impaired either by mishaps during surgery or strokes.
Usually, it’s the left hand that is thought to be “alien,” because that’s the one controlled by the right hemisphere; the left hemisphere has no control over that hand, but it does control language, which gives the person the words to think, “What is happening to my left hand?”
Documented cases range from the embarrassing, such as the habit of grabbing anything placed in front of you, just like a baby would, to the plain vexing, as in the urge to masturbate anywhere, anytime. We’ll let that one go by without comment. Since there’s no cure for the syndrome, many people cope with it as if it were a disruptive child, perhaps taking their cue from the baby example.
By the way, it’s always an alien hand, never an alien leg or foot. As neuroscientists explain, the brain has more bilateral control over the legs than it does the arms and, if we’re not, say, a soccer star, we usually don’t do a lot with our feet.
Another reported case was about a man who had to referee over a fight between his hands in an apparent fashion dispute over what color of shoes he should wear. Now, if you can picture that scene with a straight face, believe us, friend, the two hemispheres of your brain are communicating just fine, and you’re good to go.

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