Neuro Science lessons for the day : Hysteria

I was reading one of V.S.Ramachandran’s 2003 Reith lectures, titled – ‘Neuro Science – The new philosophy’, in which he introduces a new approach to neuro science – called ‘Evolutionary neuro-psychiatry’. Well, despite all my ignorance to brain and its science, I find it an irresistable temptation to read about them. Despite all those intimidating names like – amygdala, hippocampus, fusiform gyrus, penfield homunculus – (whatever… there are 100s of such these 5 lectures itself), I can’t resist reading these things.

Oh, I usually dont remember a single scientific name among these after completing the essay. What I take with me are only the answers to some questions. Its like –
“Why does synesthesia occur?”
“Because of a cross connection between the color and number areas” is a decent enough explanation for me. I can go beyond that a bit and explain- without going to the extent of a scientist. As a commoner, thats more than enough for my appetite.

Ok, coming to why I began writing this – its because of “Hysteria“. The word hysteria conjures up an image of a angry female shouting madly as if  she lost her wits (somehow, its always a female). So, when I came across that word in VSR’s essay, and his actual ‘medical’ definition for that, I was shocked. Here it goes:

“In the strictly medical sense, the word means that here is a patient who suddenly develops a paralysis of an arm or a leg, but if you examine this patient neurologically there are no deficits, brain MR scan reveals that the brain is apparently completely normal, there are no identifiable lesions, there’s no damage. So the symptoms are dismissed as being purely psychological in origin.”

Wow! Is there any slightest relation to its popular usage? 🙂

If you want to stop here and go read that article, go here. I was surprised at this ‘hysterically’ different meaning of the word in medical and non-medical diction, and thought of exploring the web a bit.

A look at the wikipedia page – gave me an impression that its a woman thing. (Just as I see a woman’s image all the time). But, Ramachandran’s definition does not mention anything of that sort.

A look at the medical dictionary online (here) gave me two distinct names, finally:

Hysterical disorder is the the one VSR explained.

Histrionic disorder – is hysteria in the mango people lingo.
The same have also been referred to as ‘somatization disorder’ and ‘conversion/dissociative disorder’ respectively, says another dictionary.

What baffles me again, is the origin of the word.
“Until the seventeenth century, hysteria  was regarded as of uterine origin (from the Greek “hustera” = uterus) in the Western world. “
(More on this in the Wiki page)

-Where did its journey began? Where is it now?

Well, more than the evolution of language, evolution of word meanings is interesting me now 🙂

Published in: on January 30, 2010 at 10:28 pm  Comments (7)  

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7 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hysteria, although described as of uterine origin originally, it is loosly described as the “weired” behavior in people who has uterus (females).
    Almost all the “hysteria” patients are woman, you’ll come across a male with hysteria symptoms very rarely.
    Dr.Ramachandran is simply a genius.
    keep reading his articles you’ll identify yourself with few “elite” readers.

  2. Funny you mentioned that… but I guess hysteric women, catfights, bickering, bit*hing always have a magnetic quality about them..whether good or bad..are definitely interesting

  3. Really its funny and amazing how we change the meaning of scientific words and use them as per our convenience… an eye opner article…i want to read it.. 🙂

  4. So, now, you tickled my curious bone… :)..

    On a side note,’synesthesia’ – has this something to do with smells? letters or numbers might not mean anything, but the colors and smells mean something?

  5. @Mahita: Go ahead to satisfy your curiosities 🙂
    Synesthesia – has it to do with smells too. The book’s lecture deals more with ‘numbers-colors’ relation, though. Synesthesia is generally a cross-mapping between two senses. Numbers-Colors happen to be the most common one. -from what I understand.


    this is my blog this abt the disorder called paranoid schizophrenia…

    ur comments r welcome…

    thank u …

  7. […] well written. I wrote two posts on this book around January, one on Synesthesia and the other on Hysteria. However, months after that reading phase, I caught this book again in a train journey from […]

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