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

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.

The best way of doing this, I found, was to write, to describe the hallucination in clear, almost clinical detail, and, in so doing, become an observer, even an explorer, not a helpless victim of the craziness inside me.

The mare in nightmare originally referred to a demonic woman who suffocated sleepers by lying on their chests (she was called Old Hag in Newfoundland).

The tri-tone - an augmented fourth (or, in hazz parlance, a flatted fifth) - is a difficult interval to sing and has often been regarded as having an ugly, uncanny, or even diabolical quality. Its use was forbidden in early ecclesiastical music, and early theorists called it diabolus in musica (the devil in music). But Tartini used it, for this very reason, in his Devil's Trill Sonata for violin. Though the raw tri-tone sounds so harsh, it is easily filled out with another tri-tone to form a diminished seventh. And this, the Oxford Companion to Music notes, has a luscious effect... The chord is indeed the most Protean in all harmony. In England the nickname has been given it of 'The Clapham Junction of Harmony' - from a railway station in London where so many lines join that once arrived there one can take a train for almost anywhere else.

They remind us that we are overdeveloped in terms of mechanical skill, but lacking in intelligence, intuition, biological knowledge; and it is this, above all, that we must regain not only in medicine, but in science in general.

To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see over-all patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or, at least, the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology, or in states of mind that allow us to travel to other worlds, to rise above our immediate surroundings.

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.

When I was twelve, a perceptive schoolmaster wrote in his report, Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far, and this was often the case.

You have done useful, honorable work. Come home. All is forgiven.

I sometimes wonder why I pushed myself so relentlessly in weight lifting. My motive, I think, was not an uncommon one; I was not the ninety-eight-pound weakling of bodybuilding advertisements, but I was timid, diffident, insecure, submissive. I became strong?very strong?with all my weight lifting but found that this did nothing for my character, which remained exactly the same.

If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost a self - himself - he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it.

In the course of a short city-block this frantic old woman frenetically caricatured the features of forty or fifty passers-by, in a quick-fire sequence of kaleidoscopic imitations, each lasting a second or two, sometimes less, and the whole dizzying sequence scarcely more than two minutes. And there were ludicrous imitations of the second and third order; for the people in the street, startled, outraged, bewildered by her imitations, took on these expressions in reaction to her; and those expressions, in turn, were re-reflected, re-directed, re-distorted, by the Touretter, causing a still greater degree of outrage and shock. This grotesque, involuntary resonance, or mutuality, by which everyone was drawn into an absurdly amplifying interaction, was the source of the disturbance I had seen from a distance. This woman who, becoming everybody, lost her own self, became nobody. This woman with a thousand faces, masks, personae- how must it be for her in this whirlwind of identities? The answer came soon- and not a second too late; for the build-up of pressures, both hers and others?, was fast approaching the point of explosion. Suddenly, desperately, the old woman turned aside, into an alley-way which led off the main street. And there, with all the appearances of a woman violently sick, she expelled, tremendously accelerated and abbreviated, all the gestures, the postures, the expressions, the demeanors, the entire behavioral repertoires, of the past forty or fifty people she had passed. She delivered one vast, pantomimic regurgitation, in which the engorged identities of the last fifty people who had possessed her were spewed out. And if the taking-in had lasted two minutes, the throwing-out was a single exhalation- fifty people in ten seconds, a fifth of a second or less for the time-foreshortened repertoire of each person. I was later to spend hundreds of hours, talking to, observing, taping, learning from, Tourette patients. Yet nothing, I think, taught me as much, as swiftly, as penetratingly, as overwhelmingly as that phantasmagoric two minutes in a New York street.

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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