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

Music evokes emotion and emotion can bring it?s memory.

Nature gropes and blunders and performs the crudest acts. There is no steady advance upward. There is no design.

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life. On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

Science is a grand thing when you can get it; in its real sense one of the grandest words in the world. But what do these men mean, nine times out of ten, when they use it nowadays? When they say detection is a science? When they say criminology is a science? They mean getting outside a man and studying him as if he were a gigantic insect; in what they would call a dry impartial light; in what I should call a dead and dehumanized light. They mean getting a long way off him, as if he were a distant prehistoric monster; staring at the shape of his criminal skull as if it were a sort of eerie growth, like the horn on a rhinoceros?s nose. When the scientist talks about a type, he never means himself, but always his neighbor; probably his poorer neighbor. I don?t deny the dry light may sometimes do good; though in one sense it?s the very reverse of science. So far from being knowledge, it?s actually suppression of what we know. It?s treating a friend as a stranger, and pretending that something familiar is really remote and mysterious. It?s like saying that a man has a proboscis between the eyes, or that he falls down in a fit of insensibility once every twenty-four hours. Well, what you call the secret is exactly the opposite. I don?t try to get outside the man. I try to get inside.

Temple started to become excited. ?I want to get this out before you get to the airport,? she said, with a sort of urgency. She had been brought up an Episcopalian, she told me, but had rather early ?given up orthodox belief? ? belief in any personal deity or intention ? in favor of a more ?scientific? notion of God. ?I believe there is some ultimate ordering force for good in the universe ? not a personal thing, not Buddha or Jesus, maybe something like order out of disorder. I like to hope that even if there?s no personal afterlife, some energy impression is left in the universe... Most people can pass on genes ? I can pass on thoughts or what I write. ?This is what I get very upset at... .? Temple, who was driving, suddenly faltered and wept. ?I?ve read that libraries are where immortality lies... I don?t want my thoughts to die with me... I want to have done something... I?m not interested in power, or piles of money. I want to leave something behind. I want to make a positive contribution ? know that my life has meaning. Right now, I?m talking about things at the very core of my existence.

The drowsiness which often accompanies or precedes a severe common migraine is occasionally abstracted as a symptom in its own right, and may then constitute the sole expression of the migrainous tendency. The

The power of music, narrative and drama is of the greatest practical and theoretical importance. One may see this even in the case of idiots, with IQs below 20 and the extremest motor incompetence and bewilderment. Their uncouth movements may disappear in a moment with music and dancing?suddenly, with music, they know how to move. We see how the retarded, unable to perform fairly simple tasks involving perhaps four or five movements or procedures in sequence, can do these perfectly if they work to music?the sequence of movements they cannot hold as schemes being perfectly holdable as music, i.e. embedded in music. The same may be seen, very dramatically, in patients with severe frontal lobe damage and apraxia?an inability to do things, to retain the simplest motor sequences and programmes, even to walk, despite perfectly preserved intelligence in all other ways. This procedural defect, or motor idiocy, as one might call it, which completely defeats any ordinary system of rehabilitative instruction, vanishes at once if music is the instructor. All this, no doubt, is the rationale, or one of the rationales, of work songs.

There is no need, he said, suddenly getting serious, to get dead drunk, pass out, and lie in the gutter. This is a very sad?even dangerous?thing to do. I hope you will never do it again.

This usually occurs at the moment when my head hits the pillow at night; my eyes close and ? I see imagery. I do not mean pictures; more usually they are patterns or textures, such as repeated shapes, or shadows of shapes, or an item from an image, such as grass from a landscape or wood grain, wavelets or raindrops ? transformed in the most extraordinary ways at a great speed. Shapes are replicated, multiplied, reversed in negative, etc. Color is added, tinted, subtracted. Textures are the most fascinating; grass becomes fur becomes hair follicles becomes waving, dancing lines of light, and a hundred other variations and all the subtle gradients between them that my words are too coarse to describe.

We are all creatures of our upbringings, our cultures, our times.

What Jacob discovered in himself has similarities to a phenomenon reported in experimental animals by Arnaud Nore¤a and Jos Eggermont in 2005. They found that cats exposed to noise trauma and then raised for a few weeks in a quiet environment developed not only hearing loss but distorted tonotopic maps in the primary auditory cortex. (They would have complained of pitch distortion, were they able to.) If, however, the cats were exposed to an enriched acoustic environment for several weeks following exposure to noise trauma, their hearing loss was less severe, and distortions in their auditory cortical mapping did not occur.

While music alone can unlock people with parkinsonism, and movement or exercise of any kind is also beneficial, an ideal combination of music and movement is provided by dance (and dancing with a partner, or in a social setting, brings to bear other therapeutic dimensions).

I thought I would die at 41, when I had a bad fall and broke a leg while mountaineering alone. I splinted the leg as best I could and started to lever myself down the mountain, clumsily, with my arms. In the long hours that followed, I was assailed by memories, both good and bad. Most were in a mode of gratitude ? gratitude for what I had been given by others, gratitude too that I had been able to give something back.

In 1986, I read a remarkable article by Israel Rosenfield in The New York Review of Books in which he discussed the revolutionary work and views of Gerald M. Edelman. Edelman was nothing if not bold. We are at the beginning of

It is easy to recollect the good things of life, the times when one's heart rejoices and expands, when everything is enfolded in kindness and love; it is easy to recollect the fineness of life-how noble one was, how generous one felt, what courage one showed in the face of adversity.

Many cardinal characteristics of migraine aura, in its visual (scotomatous), tactile (paraesthetic) and aphasic forms.

Music has a bonding power, it's primal social cement.

None of us had ever encountered, or even imagined, such a power of amnesia, the possibility of a pit into which everything, every experience, every event, would fathomlessly drop, a bottomless memory-hole that would engulf the whole world.

Patients were real, often passionate individuals with real problems?and sometimes choices?of an often agonizing sort. It was not just a question of diagnosis and treatment; much graver questions could present themselves?questions about the quality of life and whether life was even worth living in some circumstances.

Several times I have started apologizing to large, clumsy, bearded people and realize that it?s a mirror. But it?s even gone a stage further than that. Fairly recently, I was in a cafe in Chelsea Market with tables outside and while I was waiting for my food I was doing what people with beards often do: I started to preen myself and then I realized that my reflection was not doing the same thing. And that inside there was a man with a beard, possibly you, who wondered why I was sort of making faces at him.

That those who entered such nursing homes needed meaning?a life, an identity, dignity, self-respect, a degree of autonomy?was ignored or bypassed;

The hateful mood of a migraine?depressed and withdrawn, or furious and irascible?tends to melt away in the stage of lysis, to melt away with the physiological secretion. Resolution by secretion thus resembles a catharsis on both physiological and psychological levels, like weeping for grief. The

The power of music, whether joyous or cathartic must steal on one unawares, come spontaneously as a blessing or a grace--

There is no one part of the brain which recognizes or responds emotionally to music. Instead, there are many different parts responding to different aspects of music: to pitch, to frequency, to timbre, to tonal intervals, to consonance, to dissonance, to rhythm, to melodic contour, to harmony.

This, indeed, is the problem, the ultimate question, in neuroscience?and it cannot be answered, even in principle, without a global theory of brain function, one capable of showing the interactions of every level, from the micropatterns of individual neuronal responses to the grand macropatterns of an actual lived life. Such a theory, a neural theory of personal identity, has been proposed in the last few years by Gerald M. Edelman, in his theory of neuronal group selection, or neural Darwinism.

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