Oliver Sacks

Oliver
Sacks
1933

British-American Neurologist, Writer, and Amateur Chemist, Professor of Neurology at New York University School of Medicine best known for his book and movie, Awakenings

Author Quotes

You have to begin to lose your memory, if only in bits and pieces, to realize that memory is what makes our lives. Life without memory is no life at all… Our memory is our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action. Without it, we are nothing.

There are, of course, inherent tendencies to repetition in music itself. Our poetry, our ballads, our songs are full of repetition; nursery rhymes and the little chants and songs we use to teach young children have choruses and refrains. We are attracted to repetition, even as adults; we want the stimulus and the reward again and again, and in music we get it. Perhaps, therefore, we should not be surprised, should not complain if the balance sometimes shifts too far and our musical sensitivity becomes a vulnerability.

We have five senses in which we glory and which we recognize and celebrate, senses that constitute the sensible world for us. But there are other senses -- secret senses, sixth senses, if you will -- equally vital, but unrecognized, and un-lauded. These senses, unconscious, automatic, had to be discovered.

Some people with Tourette's have flinging tics- sudden, seemingly motiveless urges or compulsions to throw objects... (I see somewhat similar flinging behaviors- though not tics- in my two year old godson, now in a stage of primal antinomianism and anarchy)

There have been some very beautiful studies that have become possible with the advent of functional brain imaging, fMRI, and more recent forms of imaging, tensor imaging, that shows the white matter. If people were hallucinating faces, there tended to be abnormal activity in the so-called fusiform face area in the back of the right hemisphere in the infero-temporal cortex. If, on the other hand, they were hallucinating words or pseudo-words or letters, lexical hallucinations, then the visual word form area in the left hemisphere would be activated. And it looked very much that those systems of the brain involved in perceptual recognition generated hallucinations of that sort if they were being autonomously stimulated or released. I think the studies of musical hallucinations have not sorted things out quite in this way because people hear [complete] pieces of music. What we find is a very widespread activation of all those parts of the brain, including cerebellum, basal ganglia, premotor cortex, and so forth that are activated when one listens to real music.

We now know that memories are not fixed or frozen, like Proust?s jars of preserves in a larder, but are transformed, disassembled, reassembled, and re-categorized with every act of recollection.

Sometimes these forgettings extend to autoplagiarism, where I find myself reproducing entire phrases or sentences as if new, and this may be compounded, sometimes, by a genuine forgetfulness. Looking back through my old notebooks, I find that many of the thoughts sketched in them are forgotten for years, and then revived and reworked as new. I suspect that such forgettings occur for everyone, and they may be especially common in those who write or paint or compose, for creativity may require such forgettings, in order that one?s memories and ideas can be born again and seen in new contexts and perspectives.

There is among doctors, in acute hospitals at least, a presumption of stupidity in their patients.

We speak not only to tell other people what we think, but to tell ourselves what we think. Speech is a part of thought.

Studies by Andrew Newberg and others have shown that long-term practice of meditation produces significant alterations in cerebral blood flow in parts of the brain related to attention, emotion, and some autonomic functions.

There is certainly a universal and unconscious propensity to impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals... We tend to hear the sound of a digital clock, for example, as tick-tock, tick-tock - even though it is actually tick tick, tick tick.

We, as human beings, are landed with memory systems that have fallibilities, frailties, and imperfections ? but also great flexibility and creativity. Confusion over sources or indifference to them can be a paradoxical strength: if we could tag the sources of all our knowledge, we would be overwhelmed with often irrelevant information.

Substitutions risipisera Does absence body sensation, who was on top? Not at all. She continues to feel because of persistent loss proprioception, her body is dead, unreal, not hers - it can take over her body. I do not know how to describe this condition, found only analogies derived from other senses: I feel like my body is blind and

There is only one cardinal rule: One must always listen to the patient.

What an odd thing it is to see an entire species -- billions of people -- playing with, listening to meaningless tonal patterns, occupied and preoccupied for much of their time by what they call 'music.'

The ?secret? of Shostakovich, it was suggested?by a Chinese neurologist, Dr. Dajue Wang?was the presence of a metallic splinter, a mobile shell-fragment, in his brain, in the temporal horn of the left ventricle. Shostakovich was very reluctant.

There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth, or at least the veridical character, of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true (as Helen Keller was in a very good position to note) depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or re-experienced whenever they are recollected? Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves?the stories we continually re-categorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare, and that, for the most part, our memories are relatively solid and reliable.

What is clear in all these cases ? whether of imagined or real abuse in childhood, of genuine or experimentally implanted memories, of misled witnesses and brainwashed prisoners, of unconscious plagiarism, and of the false memories we probably all have based on misattribution or source confusion ? is that, in the absence of outside confirmation, there is no easy way of distinguishing a genuine memory or inspiration, felt as such, from those that have been borrowed or suggested, between what the psychoanalyst Donald Spence calls ?historical truth? and ?narrative truth.?

The beauty of the forest is extraordinary ? but ?beauty? is too simple a word, for being here is not just an aesthetic experience, but one steeped with mystery, with awe. ... [The forest] has to do with the ancient, the aboriginal, the beginning of all things. The primeval, the sublime, are much better words here ? for they indicate realms remote from the moral or the human, realms which force us to gaze into immense vistas of space and time, where the beginnings and originations of all things lie hidden. Now, as I wandered in the cycad forest on Rota, it seemed as if my senses were actually enlarging, as if a new sense, a time sense, was opening within me, something which might allow me to appreciate millennia or aeons as directly as I had experienced seconds or minutes. ... Standing here in the jungle, I feel part of a larger, calmer identity; I feel a profound sense of being at home, a sort of companionship with the earth.

This new quantum mechanics promised to explain all of chemistry. And though I felt an exuberance at this, I felt a certain threat, too. ?Chemistry,? wrote Crookes, ?will be established upon an entirely new basis? We shall be set free from the need for experiment, knowing a priori what the result of each and every experiment must be.? I was not sure I liked the sound of this. Did this mean that chemists of the future (if they existed) would never actually need to handle a chemical; might never see the colors of vanadium salts, never smell a hydrogen selenide, never admire the form of a crystal; might live in a colorless, scentless, mathematical world? This, for me, seemed and awful prospect, for I, at least, needed to smell and touch and feel, to place myself, my senses, in the middle of the perceptual world.

When I was five, I am told, and asked what my favorite things in the world were, I answered, ?smoked salmon and Bach.? (Now, sixty years later, my answer would be the same.)

The brain is more than an assemblage of autonomous modules, each crucial for a specific mental function. Every one of these functionally specialized areas must interact with dozens or hundreds of others, their total integration creating something like a vastly complicated orchestra with thousands of instruments, an orchestra that conducts itself, with an ever-changing score and repertoire.

This one is great for clients who can?t see the road ahead anymore, who feel they have somehow failed in life.

When I was fourteen or fifteen? the Yom Kippur service ended in an unforgettable way, for Schechter, who always put great effort into the blowing of the shofar?he would go red in the face with exertion?produced a long, seemingly endless note of unearthly beauty, and then dropped dead before us on the bema, the raised platform where he would sing. I had the feeling that God had killed Schechter, sent a thunderbolt, stricken him. The shock of this for everyone was tempered by the reflection that if there was ever a moment in which a soul was pure, forgiven, relieved of all sin, it was at this moment, when the shofar was blown in conclusion of the fast.

The clinic and laboratory and hospital ward are all designed to curb the behavior and concentration, if not eliminated altogether.

Author Picture
First Name
Oliver
Last Name
Sacks
Birth Date
1933
Bio

British-American Neurologist, Writer, and Amateur Chemist, Professor of Neurology at New York University School of Medicine best known for his book and movie, Awakenings