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

There is a direct union of oneself with a motorcycle, for it is so geared to one?s proprioception, one?s movements and postures, that it responds almost like part of one?s own body. Bike and rider become a single, indivisible entity; it is very much like riding a horse. A car cannot become part of one in quite the same way.

This is why they laughed at the President's speech.

Travel now by all means?if you have the time. But travel the right way, the way I travel. I am always reading and thinking of the history and geography of a place. I see its people in terms of these, placed in the social framework of time and space. Take the prairies, for example; you?re wasting your time visiting these unless you know the saga of the homesteaders, the influence of law and religion at different times, the economic problems, the difficulties of communication, and the effects of successive mineral finds.

We think of science as discovery, art as invention, but is there a third world of mathematics, which is somehow, mysteriously, both?

When we ?remember? a melody, it plays in our mind; it becomes newly alive? We recall one tone at a time and each tone entirely fills our consciousness, yet simultaneously it relates to the whole. It is similar when we walk or run or swim ? we do so one step, one stroke at a time, yet each step or stroke is an integral part of the whole, the kinetic melody of running or swimming.

I think hallucinations need to be discussed. There are all sorts of hallucinations, and then many sorts which are okay, like the ones I think which most of us have in bed at night before we fall asleep, when we can see all sorts of patterns or faces and scenes.

If the students were taught about shuttle flights, plate tectonics and submarine volcanoes, they were also immersed in the traditional myths of their culture?the ancient story, for example, of how the island of Pompeii had been built under the direction of a mystical octopus, Lidakika. (I was fascinated by this, for it was the only cephalopod creation myth I had ever heard.

Individuality is deeply imbued in us from the very start, at the neuronal level. Even at a motor level, researchers have shown, an infant does not follow a set pattern of learning to walk or how to reach for something. Each baby experiments with different ways of reaching for objects and over the course of several months discovers or selects his own motor solutions. When we try to envisage the neural basis of such individual learning, we might imagine a population of movements (and their neural correlates) being strengthened or pruned away by experience. Similar considerations arise with regard to recover and rehabilitation after strokes and other injuries. There are no rules; there is no prescribed path of recovery; every patient must discover or create his own motor and perceptual patterns, his own solutions to the challenges that face him; and it is the function of a sensitive therapist to help him in this.

Language, that most human invention, can enable what, in principle, should not be possible. It can allow all of us, even the congenitally blind, to see with another person's eyes.

Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears - it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear. But for many of my neurological patients, music is even more - it can provide access, even when no medication can, to movement, to speech, to life. For them, music is not a luxury, but a necessity.

My note was a strange mixture of facts and observations, carefully noted and itemised, with irrepressible meditations on what such problems might 'mean', in regard to who and what and where this poor man was - whether, indeed, one could speak of an 'existence', given so absolute a privation of memory or continuity.

Our auditory systems, our nervous systems, are indeed exquisitely tuned for music? its complex sonic patterns woven in time? the mysterious way in which it embodies emotion and ?will? ? and how much to special resonances, synchronizations, oscillations, mutual excitations, or feedbacks in the immensely complex, multi-level neural circuitry that underlies musical perception and replay, we do not yet know.

PTSD seems to have an even higher prevalence and greater severity following violence or disaster that is man-made; natural disasters, acts of God, seem somehow easier to accept. (...). This is the case with acute stress reactions, too: I see it often with my patients in hospital, who can show extraordinary courage and calmness in facing the most dreadful diseases but fly into a rage if a nurse is late with a bedpan or a medication. The amorality of nature is accepted, whether it takes the form of a monsoon, an elephant in heat, or a disease; but being subjected helplessly to the will of others is not, for human behavior always carries (or is felt to carry) a moral charge.

Specifically, he wonders ? and one in turn may wonder whether these thoughts were perhaps incited by his working with patients, in a hospital, in the war ? he wonders whether there might be situations or conditions which take away the certainty of the body, which do give one grounds to doubt one?s body, perhaps indeed to lose one?s entire body in total doubt. This thought seems to haunt his last book like a nightmare.

The delirious visions when they came to him may have owed something to opium as well as to a high temperature, since opium was then a normal remedy for ague or malaria.

The pleasure we obtain from music comes from counting, but counting unconsciously. Music is nothing but unconscious arithmetic.

There is among doctors, in acute hospitals at least, a presumption of stupidity in their patients.

This new quantum mechanics promised to explain all of chemistry. And though I felt an exuberance at this, I felt a certain threat, too. ?Chemistry,? wrote Crookes, ?will be established upon an entirely new basis?. We shall be set free from the need for experiment, knowing a priori what the result of each and every experiment must be.? I was not sure I liked the sound of this. Did this mean that chemists of the future (if they existed) would never actually need to handle a chemical; might never see the colors of vanadium salts, never smell a hydrogen selenide, never admire the form of a crystal; might live in a colorless, scentless, mathematical world? This, for me, seemed and awful prospect, for I, at least, needed to smell and touch and feel, to place myself, my senses, in the middle of the perceptual world.

Very young children love and demand stories, and can understand complex matters presented as stories, when their powers of comprehending general concepts, paradigms, are almost nonexistent.

What an odd thing it is to see an entire species -- billions of people -- playing with, listening to meaningless tonal patterns, occupied and preoccupied for much of their time by what they call 'music.' (-- The Overlords, from Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End)

When writing my Leg book, I drew heavily on the detailed journals I had kept as a patient in 1974. Oaxaca Journal, too, relied heavily on my handwritten notebooks. But for the most part, I rarely look at the journals I have kept for the greater part of a lifetime. The act of writing is itself enough; it serves to clarify my thoughts and feelings. The act of writing is an integral part of my mental life; ideas emerge, are shaped, in the act of writing.

I think the brain is a dynamic system in which some parts control or suppress other parts. And if perhaps one has damage in one of the controlling or suppressing areas, then you may have the emergence or eruption of something, whether it is a seizure, a criminal trait - - or even a sudden musical passion.

If we have youth, beauty, blessed gifts, strength, if we find fame, fortune, favor, fulfillment, it is easy to be nice, to turn a warm heart to the world.

Interchanges between the senses are frequent and astonishing: One knows the smell of a low B flat, the sound of green, the taste of the categorical imperative (which is something like veal). No

Lemurs are close to the ancestral stock from which all primates arose, and I am happy to think that one of my own ancestors, 50 million years ago, was a little tree-dwelling creature not so dissimilar to the lemurs of today. I love their leaping vitality, their inquisitive nature.

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