Oliver Sacks

Oliver
Sacks
1933
2015

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 seems that the brain always has to be active, and if the auditory parts of the brain are not getting sufficient input, then they may start to create hallucinatory sounds on their own. Although it is curious that they do not usually create noises or voices; they create music.

Much more of the brain is devoted to movement than to language. Language is only a little thing sitting on top of this huge ocean of movement.

My favourite dream is of going to the opera (I am Hafnium), sharing a box at the Met with the other heavy transition metals ? my old and valued friends ? Tantalum, Rhenium, Osmium, Iridium, Platinum, Gold, and Tungsten.

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, too. One has seen grand theories rise, only to be toppled by stubborn facts. One is more conscious of transience and, perhaps, of beauty. At 80, one can take a long view and have a vivid, lived sense of history not possible at an earlier age.

Physiological confirmation of such filling in by involuntary musical imagery has recently been obtained by William Kelley and his colleagues at Dartmouth, who used functional MRI to scan the auditory cortex while their subjects listened to familiar and unfamiliar songs in which short segments had been replaced by gaps of silence. The silent gaps embedded in familiar songs were not consciously noticed by their subjects, but the researchers observed that these gaps induced greater activation in the auditory association areas than did silent gaps embedded in unknown songs; this was true for gaps in songs with lyrics and without lyrics.

Since the fragment had been there, he said, each time he leaned his head to one side he could hear music. His head was filled with melodies?different each time?which he then made use of when composing.

The body, normally, is never in question: our bodies are beyond question, or perhaps beneath question - they are simply, unquestionably, there. This unquestionability of the body, is, for Wittgenstein, the start and basis of all knowledge and certainty.

The miracle is that, in most cases, he succeeds - for the powers of survival, of the will to survive, and to survive as a unique inalienable individual, are absolutely, the strongest in our being: stronger than any impulses, stronger than disease.

The users of a language, above all, will tend to a naive realism, to see their language as a reflection of reality, not as a construct.

Think! cried the Professor. This prodigious bowl was filled with ice to a depth of three hundred feet. And when we and our children are dead, seeds will have sprouted in the silt, and a young forest will nod over these stones. Here before you is one scene of a geological drama, past and future implicit in the present you perceive, and all within the span of a single human generation, and a human memory.

To restore the human subject at the center - the suffering, afflicted, fighting, human subject - we must deepen a case history to a narrative or tale; only then do we have a 'who' as well as a 'what', a real person, a patient, in relation to disease - in relation to the physical. The patient's essential being is very relevant in the higher reaches of neurology, and in psychology; for here the patient's personhood is essentially involved, and the study of disease and of identity cannot be disjoined.

We ourselves were made of the very same elements as composed the sun and stars, that some of my atoms might once have been in a distant star. But it frightened me too, made me feel that my atoms were only on loan and might fly apart at any time, fly away like the fine talcum powder I saw in the bathroom.

When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate - the genetic and neural fate - of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

You keep pressing me, he said, to say that the attacks start with this symptom or that symptom, this phenomenon or that phenomenon, but this is not the way I experience them. It doesn?t start with one symptom, it starts as a whole. You feel the whole thing, quite tiny at first, right from the start.? It?s like glimpsing a point, a familiar point, on the horizon, and gradually getting nearer, seeing it get larger and larger; or glimpsing your destination from far off, in a plane, having it get clearer and clearer as you descend through the clouds. The migraine looms, he added, but it?s just a change of scale?everything is already there from the start. This business of looming, of huge changes of

I sought for (and sometimes achieved) an intense concentration, a complete absorption in the worlds of mineralogy and chemistry and physics, in science ? focusing on them, holding myself together in the chaos...create my own world from the neutrality and beauty of nature, so that I would not be swept into the chaos, the madness, the seduction,

If a man with a dog sits quietly enjoying music and smiling, his dog might sit down beside him and smile, too. But who knows whether the dog is having a comparable experience or whether the dog is simply happy that his master is happy.

In these few minutes one gets an overwhelming impression of the absolute identity of Body and Mind, and the fact that our highest functions?consciousness and self?are not entities, self-sufficient, above the body, but neuropsychological constructs?processes?dependent on the continuity of bodily experience and its integration.

It was perhaps fortunate that I chanced to see Rebecca in her so-different modes -- so damaged and incorrigible in the one, so full of promise and potential in the other -- and that she was on of the first patients I saw in our clinic. For what I saw in her, what she showed me, I now saw in all.

Muscular dystrophy ... was never seen until Duchenne described it in the 1850s. By 1860, after his original description, many hundreds of cases had been recognized and described, so much so that Charcot said: 'How is it that a disease so common, so widespread, and so recognizable at a glance - a disease which has doubtless always existed - how is it that it is recognized only now? Why did we need M. Duchenne to open our eyes?'

My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate ? the genetic and neural fate ? of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.

One might say that science itself, and civilization and art, are all about different orderings of the world ? to contain it, and to make it in some sense intelligible, communicable. And bearable.

Presiding over the entire attack there will be, in du Bois Reymond's words, a general feeling of disorder, which may be experienced in either physical or emotional terms, and tax or elude the patient's powers of description.

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)

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.

The paradox of an illness which can present as wellness - as a wonderful feeling of health and well-being, and only later reveal its malignant potentials - is one of the chimaeras, tricks and ironies of nature. It is one which has fascinated a number of artists, especially those who equate art with sickness: thus it is a theme - at once Dionysiac, Venerean, and Faustian - which persistently recurs in Thomas Mann - from the febrile, tuberculous highs of The Magic Mountain, to the spirochaetal inspirations in Dr Faustus and the aphrodisiac malignancy in his last tale, The Black Swan.

Author Picture
First Name
Oliver
Last Name
Sacks
Birth Date
1933
Death Date
2015
Bio

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