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 went back into the house and had put on the kettle for another cup of tea when my attention was caught by a spider on the kitchen wall. As I drew nearer to look at it, the spider called out, Hello! It did not seem at all strange to me that a spider should say hello (any more than it seemed strange to Alice when the White Rabbit spoke). I said, Hello, yourself, and with this we started a conversation, mostly on rather technical matters of analytic philosophy. Perhaps this direction was suggested by the spider?s opening comment: did I think that Bertrand Russell had exploded Frege?s paradox? Or perhaps it was its voice?pointed, incisive, and just like Russell?s voice (which I had heard on the radio, but also?hilariously?as it had been parodied in Beyond the Fringe).9 D

In REM sleep the body is paralyzed, except for shallow breathing and eye movements.

It remains, for me, the most powerful and elegant explanation of how we humans and our brains construct our very individual selves and worlds.

Michael was all too conscious of his condition, and when he was in his grimmest moods, he would say, I am a doomed man, though there was a hint of the messianic in this too: he was doomed as all messiahs are doomed. (When my friend Ren Weschler visited him once and asked how he was, Michael replied, I am in Little Ease. Ren looked baffled, and Michael had to explain that Little Ease was a cell in the Tower of London so small that a man could neither stand up nor lie down in it, could never find any ease.)

Music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional. It has no power to represent anything particular or external, but it has a unique power to express inner states or feelings. Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation.

Once there, I found the patient's bedside. He lay on the floor, staring at his leg. The expression on his face mingled anger, anxiety, confusion, and a fun surprise - mostly confusion with a dash of funk. I asked him to go back to bed and managed, if not need help, but all my requests and inquiries further infuriated him. Then I sat down beside him on the floor, and that's what he told me. This morning he came to the clinic for an examination (he himself no matter what did not complain, but the neurologist, deciding that he had naughty left foot, sent him here). All day long he felt fine and the evening fell asleep. He woke up, too, in order, and all was well until he tried not to roll over on the other side. At this point, he, in his words, found in the bed someone's foot - a severed human leg, - a wild story! At first he was just taken aback with surprise and disgust: never in his life he was anything like this does not come across, even to think such could not. Then gently touched his leg. In appearance she seemed perfectly normal, but it was cold and strange. And then it dawned on him. He realized what had happened: it was a joke! The original, of course, but the brutal and inappropriate jokes. It was New Year's Eve, all walked - polkliniki drunk, smoke yoke, firecrackers, carnival ... Obviously, one of the sisters with very dark sense of humor snuck into the autopsy room, pulled out a severed leg and, while he slept, put him under the covers. This explanation reassured him, but the joke also has a limit, and he kicked the crap out of bed. And all would be well, but finished with it (then he changed the calm tone, and he suddenly grimaced and turned pale), he somehow fell behind, and now foot was with him one.

Perhaps there is a philosophical as well as a clinical lesson here: that in Korsakov?s, or dementia, or other such catastrophes, however great the organic damage and Humean dissolution, there remains the undiminished possibility of reintegration by art, by communion, by touching the human spirit: and this can be preserved in what seems at first a hopeless state of neurological devastation.

Sign language is the equal of speech, lending itself equally to the rigorous and the poetic, to philosophical analysis or to making love.

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.

The left hemisphere is more sophisticated and specialized, a very late outgrowth of the primate, and especially the hominid, brain. On the other hand, it is the right hemisphere which controls the crucial powers of recognizing reality which every living creature must have in order to survive.

The sense of personal space, of the self in relation to other objects and other people, tends to be markedly altered in Tourette?s syndrome.

They opened their feet continually abyss of amnesia, but he saved them , to wit, through rapid confabulations and fictions of all kinds. Fictions were not for him, it was like suddenly saw or played the world. The incessant flow and incoherence of the world could not tolerate, could not admit for a moment ... that strange and delirious replacing quasi-coherence, with which Mr. Thomson, with its continuous, unconscious and vertiginous inventions, constantly improvising a world around him, a world of the Arabian nights, a phantasmagoria, a dream of situations, images and people in perpetual change, continuous transformations and mutations, kaleidoscopic... This frenzy potential invention can produce extremely bright and fantasy (a true genius confabulatory) because the patient must literally make himself (and build your world) at every moment. We have, each and every one, a biographical story, an inner narrative whose continuity, whose sense, is our life. One could say that each of us builds and lives a narrative and that this narrative is us, our identity.

To have perceived an overall organization, a super-arching principle uniting and relating all the elements, had a quality of the miraculous, of genius. And this gave me, for the first time, a sense of the transcendent power of the human mind, and the fact that it might be equipped to discover or decipher the deepest secrets of nature, to read the mind of God.

We may see very clearly how the wrong sound, or anti-music, is pathogenic and migrainogenic; while the right sound?proper music?is truly tranquillising, and immediately restores cerebral health. These effects are striking, and quite fundamental, and put one in mind of Novalis?s aphorism: Every disease is a musical problem; every cure is a musical solution.

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.

You care, you really care for me! Of course, Eric said. How could you doubt it? But it was not easy to believe that anyone cared for me; I sometimes failed to realize, I think, how much my parents cared for me. It is only now, reading the letters they wrote to me when I came to America fifty years ago, that I see how deeply they did care. And perhaps how deeply many others have cared for me?was the imagined lack of caring by others a projection of something deficient or inhibited in myself? I once heard a radio program devoted to the memories and thoughts of those who, like me, had been evacuated during the Second World War, separated from their families during their earliest years. The interviewer commented on how well these people had adjusted to the painful, traumatic years of their childhood. Yes, said one man. But I still have trouble with the three Bs: bonding, belonging, and believing. I think this is also true, to some extent, for me.

I rejoice when I meet gifted young people... I feel the future is in good hands.

I wondered whether systems in the brain concerned with the perception (or projection) of meaning, significance, and intentionality, systems underlying a sense of wonder and mysteriousness, systems for appreciation of the beauty of art and science, had lost their balance in schizophrenia, producing a mental world overcharged with intense emotion and distortions of reality. These systems had lost their middle ground, it seemed, so that any attempt to titrate them, damp them down, could tip the person from a pathologically heightened state to one of great dullness, a sort of mental death.

In terms of brain development, musical performance is every bit as important educationally as reading or writing.

It 's easy to remember the beautiful things in life, times in which rejoices the heart of man and is open until everything is encircled compassion and love is easy to remember the purity of life; how much was one noble and generous and brave in the face of adversity , but harder to remember how much how much we were full of hate!

Might they indeed see us as peculiar, distracted by trivial or irrelevant aspects of the visual world, and insufficiently sensitive to its real visual essence?

My father, who lived to ninety-four, often said that the eighties had been one of the most enjoyable decades of his life. He felt, as I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life, not only one?s own life, but others? too. One has seen triumphs and tragedies, booms and busts, revolutions and wars, great achievements and deep ambiguities. One has seen grand theories rise, only

One does not need to have any formal knowledge of music ? nor, indeed, to be particularly ?musical? ? to enjoy music and to respond to it at the deepest levels. Music is part of being human, and there is not human culture in which it is not highly developed and esteemed.

PERIODIC MOOD-CHANGES We have already spoken of the affective concomitants of common migraines?elated and irritable prodromal states, states of dread and depression associated with the main phase of the attack, and states of euphoric rebound. Any or all of these may be abstracted as isolated periodic symptoms of relatively short duration?some hours, or at most two or three days, and as such may present themselves as primary emotional disorders. The most acute of these mood-changes, generally no more than an hour in duration, usually represents concomitants or equivalents of migraine aura. We may confine our attention at this stage to attacks of depression, or truncated manic-depressive cycles, occurring at intervals in patients who have previously suffered from attacks of undoubted (classical, common, abdominal, etc.) migraine.

Sign, I was now convinced, was a fundamental language of the brain.

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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