Oliver Sacks


British-American Neurologist, Naturalist and Author who explored the brain’s strangest pathways, best known for Movies: Awakenings, The Music Never Stopped, and At First Sight as well as for his Books: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, On the Move: A Life, and Musicophilia

Author Quotes

I was always the youngest boy in my class at high school. I have retained this feeling of being the youngest, even though now I am almost the oldest person I know.

In examining disease, we gain wisdom about anatomy and physiology and biology. In examining the person with disease, we gain wisdom about life.

It is not (usually) the ideas of philosophers that change reality; nor, conversely, is it the practice of ordinary people. What changes history, what kindles revolutions, is the meeting of the two. A

Many patients may confess that they feel strange or confused during a migraine aura, that they are clumsy in their movements, or that they would not drive at such a time. In short, they may be aware of something the matter in addition to the scintillating scotoma, paraesthesiae, etc., something so unprecedented in their experience, so difficult to describe, that it is often avoided or omitted when speaking of their complaints. Great

Music is as powerful as any medicine.

Nothing I could say could repel or shock her; there seemed no limit to her powers of sympathy and understanding, the generosity and spaciousness of her heart.

Patients with aphasia and left-hemisphere lesions, says they have lost ?abstract? and ?propositional? thought?and compares them with dogs (or, rather, he compares dogs to patients with aphasia).

She entered my life and have been with me, for better or worse, ever since. A carefree life became a careful one, to some extent. I felt this was the end of youth and that middle age was now upon me.

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, apparently, to have this removed:

The inexpressible depth of music, so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain...Music expresses only the quintessence of life and of its events, never these themselves.

The primal, animal sense of ?the other,? which may have evolved for the detection of threat, can take on a lofty, even transcendent function in human beings, as a biological basis for religious passion and conviction, where the 'other,? the 'presence,? becomes the person of God.

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

Thus higher-order memorization is a multistage process, involving the transfer of perceptions, or perceptual syntheses, from short-term to long-term memory. It is just such a transfer that fails to occur in people with temporal lobe damage.

We had a large old-fashioned battery, a wet cell, in the kitchen, hooked up to an electric bell. The bell was too complicated to understand at first, and the battery, to my mind, was more immediately attractive, for it contained an earthenware tube with a massive, gleaming copper cylinder in the middle, immersed in a bluish liquid, all this inside an outer glass casing, also filled with fluid, and containing a slimmer bar of zinc. It looked like a miniature chemical factory of sorts, and I thought I saw little bubbles of gas, at times, coming off the zinc. The Daniell cell (as it was called) had a thoroughly nineteenth-century, Victorian look about it, and this extraordinary object was making electricity all by itself?not by rubbing or friction, but just by the virtue of its own chemical reactions.

When [his longtime physician] was alive, Wystan was well and lovingly taken care of, protected from ?the sadist, the nod-crafty, and the fee-conscious? and from ??medical engineers with their arrogance?. With Dr. Protetch?s death, there occurred a grave and tragic change in Wystan?s situation: he had lost his own doctor, and could find no one to replace him. Why? Because decent, kindly, general practitioners are all but extinct in the U.S. today, and because the ancient art of healing is itself almost dead?. He faced ?specialists? with whom no relation was possible:

With any hallucinations, if you can do functional brain imagery while they're going on, you will find that the parts of the brain usually involved in seeing or hearing - in perception - have become super active by themselves. And this is an autonomous activity; this does not happen with imagination.

I was fascinated that one could have such perceptual changes, and also that they went with a certain feeling of significance, an almost numinous feeling. I'm strongly atheist by disposition, but nonetheless when this happened, I couldn't help thinking, 'That must be what the hand of God is like.'

In general, people are afraid to acknowledge hallucinations because they immediately see them as a sign of something awful happening to the brain, whereas in most cases they're not.

It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me.

McKenzie once called Parkinsonism an organized chaos, and this is equally true of migraine. First there is chaos, then organization, a sick order; it is difficult to know which is worse! The nastiness of the first lies in its uncertainty, its flux; the nastiness of the second in its sense of immutable heavy permanence. Typically, indeed, treatment is only possible early, before migraine has solidified into immovable fixed forms.

Music is part of being human.

Now there is stillness?such a stillness as I have never heard before in all my life. Soon I shall start moving again, and perhaps I will never stop.

Patients with various other types of movement disorders may also be able to pick up the rhythmic movement or kinetic melody of an animal, so, for example, equestrian therapy may have startling effectiveness for people with parkinsonism, Tourette?s syndrome, chorea, or dystonia.

She had an intense feeling for structure, the way things were put together ? whether they were human bodies, or plants, or scientific instruments or machines.

The act of writing is itself enough; it serves to clarify my thoughts and feelings. The act of writing is an integral part of my mental life; ideas emerge, are shaped, in the act of writing.

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Birth Date
Death Date

British-American Neurologist, Naturalist and Author who explored the brain’s strangest pathways, best known for Movies: Awakenings, The Music Never Stopped, and At First Sight as well as for his Books: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, On the Move: A Life, and Musicophilia