The late and always great Oliver Sacks was a humanist as well as a fine neuropsychologist. For Sacks saw behind the unusual manifestations of Neurological issues, the patient who sat in the centre of the turmoil. Reading 'The man who mistook his wife for a hat' one can see the humanism as well as the fascination leap out from the pages.
Central to the process of Sacks was the quote made by Sir WIlliam Osler “Ask not what disease the person has, but rather what person the disease has."
This quote is best exemplified by what physicans would call the 'history' of the patient. As well as a Sherlockian approach to observation, the patient's history taking reveals details in its own right. From exposure to differing toxins to hazards involving allergens, the history may also reveal telling personality changes.
But it is not just the neuropsychologist and physican who benefits by close observation and accurate history taking. We are all social creatures and we can improve our general functioning as social beings by analysing that which we take for granted every day. As a person with Asperger's this can be illustrated with regard to facial expressions.
I have always found it remarkably difficult to determine the feelings of others through facial expressions.
And so some time ago I devoted no small amount of time in researching the work of the excellent Paul Ekman and his study of universal facial expressions and the FACS system. This has helped me immensely to interpret the feelings and thoughts of others.
It is all too easy to assume that because we have lived as social creatures for a few decades that there is nothing left to learn. But there is a wide chasm between the amateur social sleuth and the person who makes a science of the socially observable.
By studying the works of Sacks and anyone who treats observation as a science we can aid ourselves in all manner of social interactions.