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

It really is a very odd business that all of us, to varying degrees, have music in our heads.

Memory is dialogic and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.

Music originally had a social function. You were in church, in a concert hall, a marching band; you were dancing. I'm concerned that music could be too separated from its roots and just become a pleasure-giving experience, like a drug.

On one occasion?it was an oppressive Saturday in the tense summer of 1939?I decided to ride my tricycle up and down Exeter Road near the house, but there was a sudden downpour and I got completely soaked. [Aunt] Annie wagged a finger at me, and shook her heavy head: ?Riding on Shabbos? You can't get away with it,? she said. ?He sees everything, He is watching all the time!? I disliked Saturdays from this time on, disliked God, too (or at least the vindictive, punitive God that Annie's warning had evoked) and developed an uncomfortable, anxious, watched feeling about Saturdays (which persists, a little, to this day).

Perception is never purely in the present ? it has to draw on experience of the past; this is why Gerald M. Edelman speaks of ?the remembered present.? We all have detailed memories of how things have previously looked and sounded, and these memories are recalled and admixed with every new perception.

She now receives love, attention, and invisible presents from a hallucinatory gentleman who visits faithfully each evening.

The amalgamation of accuracy and affection, knowing what is proper and loving what is dear ? this is the essence of care, be it medical care, or any other sort of care; care for the body, care for the soul, care for the individual, care for Society, were almost inseparable in Auden?s mind. God, for him was no mere geometer high in the sky, but the cardinal principle of decency and care. It was essential for Wystan that there should be people to care for his needs, in whose skill and goodness he could repose entire faith. He required this, as we all require this, if we are to survive physically, existentially, and to enjoy decent health.

The last scene of Michael?s life was played out in a hospital emergency room, waiting for the operation which this time, he thought, would probably take his leg. He was lying on a stretcher when he suddenly raised himself up on an elbow, said, I?m going outside to have a smoke, and fell back dead.

The same areas which are active in listening to music are also active when you imagine music, and this includes the motor areas, too. That explains why earlier, even though I was only thinking of the mazurka, I was thinking in terms of movement.

These then are tales of metamorphosis, brought about by neurological chance, but metamorphosis into alternative states of being, other forms of life, no less human for being so different.

To be ourselves we must have ourselves - possess, if need be re-possess, our life-stories. We must 'recollect' ourselves, recollect the inner drama, the narrative, of ourselves. A man needs such a narrative, a continuous inner narrative, to maintain his identity, his self.

We have, each of us, a life story, whose continuity, whose sense, is our lives.

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.)

Yes, you look at it! - He exclaimed in disgust. - Have you ever seen in my life something more wild and vile? I always thought that the dead corpses. But this ... this ... was terrible! And I do not know how, it is terrible even to think, it stuck to me. He took up the leg with both hands and tried furiously to tear her away from him. When he failed, he angrily hit her. - Wait! - I tried to reason with him. - Do not boil! The main thing - peace of mind. If I were in your place, so I do not keep up the beat. - This is why? - He asked irritably and aggressively. Yes, because it's your own leg, - I replied. - What are you, my foot did not know? His response was astounding sight, mistrust and fear, which still mingled with suspicion of evil. Oh, no, Doc! - he said. - It's not easy to fool me. You have conspired with a nurse. You should not have it, you cannot joke with patients so. It's not joking - I said. - It's actually your foot. On my face, he realized that I say quite seriously - and frightened. - So this is my leg? But people should also recognize their own pace? That's right - I said. - I must find out. I even cannot imagine, that did not recognize. So you seem to do here joking joke. - I swear to God, not kidding ... A man should know his body, that his and what is not, but this leg, this abomination, - then again he shuddered with disgust, - wrong she stranger , not real. Fake .. And what? - I asked in confusion, surprised not less of it. What? - He repeated slowly. - I'll tell you what. Wacky, wild, no matter what I do not like the leg. How can it be mine ?! I cannot imagine whose ... what do ... - then he stopped in fear and shock. Listen, - I said to him. - You are weak. Let's you just lie down back to bed. I just want to finally make it clear: if this is - not your leg (during the conversation, he called it a forgery and was amazed that it worked so hard to make an exact copy), then where it is now your real left leg? He turned pale again, and so much so that I thought he was going to faint. I do not know - he said. - Cannot understand. Gone. It is nowhere to be found.

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.

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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