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

There are moments, and it is only a matter of five or six seconds, when you feel the presence of the eternal harmony ... a terrible thing is the frightful clearness with which it manifests itself and the rapture with which it fills you. If this state were to last more than five seconds, the soul could not endure it and would have to disappear. During these five seconds I live a whole human existence, and for that I would give my whole life and not think that I was paying too dearly ?

This drove home to me how barbaric our own medicine and our own customs are in the civilized world, where we put ill or demented people away and try to forget them.

Too-muchness had no doubt been noticed at school, for it was around this time that I received a school report that said, ?Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far.

We rationalize, we dissimilate, we pretend: we pretend that modern medicine is a rational science, all facts, no nonsense, and just what it seems. But we have only to tap its glossy veneer for it to split wide open, and reveal to us its roots and foundations, its old dark heart of metaphysics, mysticism, magic, and myth. Medicine is the oldest of the arts, and the oldest of the sciences: would one not expect it to spring from the deepest knowledge and feelings we have?

When the attack is due (or a little overdue), it will occur, explosively, whether or not there is any provocation.

I stayed, as always, at 37 Mapesbury, and on publication day my father came into my bedroom, pale and shaking, holding The Times in his hands. He said, fearfully, You?re in the papers. There was a very nice essay-review in the paper which called Migraine balanced, authoritative, brilliant, or something of the sort. But so far as my father was concerned, this made no difference; I had committed a grave impropriety, if not a criminal folly, by being in the papers. In those days, one might be struck off the Medical Register in England for any indulgence in the four As: alcoholism, addiction, adultery, or advertising; my father thought that a review of Migraine in the general press might be seen as advertising. I had gone public, made myself visible. He himself always had, or believed he had, a low profile. He was known to and beloved by his patients, family, and friends, but not to a wider world. I had crossed a boundary, transgressed, and he feared for me. This coincided with feelings I had had myself, and in those days I often misread the word publish as punish. I felt that I would be punished if I published anything, and yet I had to; this conflict almost tore me apart.

If migraine patients have a common and legitimate second complaint besides their migraines, it is that they have not been listened to by physicians. Looked at, investigated, drugged, charged, but not listened to.

In this, then, lies their power of understanding--understanding, without words, what is authentic or inauthentic. Thus it was the grimaces, the histrionisms, the false gestures and, above all, the false tones and cadences of the voice, which rang false for those wordless but immensely sensitive patients. It was to these (for them) most glaring, even grotesque, incongruities and improprieties that my aphasic patients responded, undeceived and undeceivable by words. This is why they laughed at the President's speech.

It's amazing - she won and lost. Restoring action is being lost. Set in motion all the resources of the nervous system, as well as the will, courage, endurance and independence, it has adapted to a new life. Faced with an unprecedented situation, it has entered the fray with a terrible enemy and survived - a huge stress of physical and spiritual strength. It could be considered a cohort of Neurology unknown heroes. But she remains disabled and the victim. No heights of the spirit, no creativity, no adaptive mechanisms can not cope with the absolute silence of proprioception - a vital sixth sense without which our body loses its reality, leaving us forever .

Music can also evoke worlds very different from the personal, remembered worlds of events, people, places we have known.

My impression is that a sense of rhythm, which has no analog in language, is unique and that its correlation with movement is unique to human beings. Why else would children start to dance when they're two or three? Chimpanzees don't dance.

One must drop all presuppositions and dogmas and rules ? for there only lead to stalemate or disaster; one must cease to regard all patients as replicas, and honor each one with individual reactions and propensities; and, in this way, with the patient as one?s equal, one?s co-explorer, not one?s puppet, one may find therapeutic ways which are better than other ways, tactics which can be modified as occasion requires.

Professional musicians, in general, possess what most of us would regard as remarkable powers of musical imagery. Many composers, indeed, do not compose initially or entirely at an instrument but in their minds. There is no more extraordinary example of this than Beethoven, who continued to compose (and whose compositions rose to greater and greater heights) years after he had become totally deaf. It is possible that his musical imagery was even intensified by deafness, for with the removal of normal auditory input, the auditory cortex may become hypersensitive, with heightened powers of musical imagery (and sometimes even auditory hallucinations).

Some sense of ongoing, of next, is always with us. But this sense of movement, of happening, Greg lacked; he seemed immured, without knowing it, in a motionless, timeless moment. And whereas for the rest of us the present is given its meaning and depth by the past (hence it becomes the remembered present, in Gerald Edelman?s term), as well as being given potential and tension by the future, for Greg it was flat and (in its meager way) complete. This living-in-the-moment, which was so manifestly pathological, had been perceived in the temple as an achievement of higher consciousness. G

The clinic and laboratory and hospital ward are all designed to curb the concentration and behavior, if not entirely to remove him.

The past which is not recoverable in any other way is embedded, as if in amber, in the music, and people can regain a sense of identity..

There are other senses -? secret senses, sixth senses, if you will -? equally vital, but unrecognized, and unlauded.

This gave me a feeling of what seemed wrong with American medicine, that it consisted more and more of specialists. There were fewer and fewer primary care physicians, the base of the pyramid. My father and my two older brothers were all general practitioners, and I found myself feeling not like a super-specialist in migraine but like the general practitioner these patients should have seen to begin with.

Towards a Neurobiological Theory of Consciousness, one of the first synoptic articles to come out of his collaboration with Christof Koch at Caltech. I felt very privileged to see this manuscript, in particular their carefully laid-out argument that an ideal way of entering this seemingly inaccessible subject would be through exploring disorders of visual perception. Crick and Koch?s paper was aimed at neuroscientists and covered a vast range in a few pages; it was sometimes dense and highly technical. But I knew that Crick could also write in a very accessible and witty and personable way; this was especially evident in his two earlier books, Life Itself and Of Molecules and Men. So I now entertained hopes that he might give a more popular and accessible form to his neurobiological theory of consciousness, enriched with clinical and everyday examples.

We see with the eyes, but we see with the brain as well. And seeing with the brain is often called imagination. And we are familiar with the landscapes of our own imagination, our inscapes. We?ve lived with them all our lives. But there are also hallucinations as well, and hallucinations are completely different. They don?t seem to be of our creation. They don?t seem to be under our control. They seem to come from the outside, and to mimic perception.

When the brain is released from the constraints of reality, it can generate any sound, image, or smell in its repertoire, sometimes in complex and 'impossible' combinations.

I suspect that music has qualities both of speech and writing - partly built in, partly individually constructed - and this goes on all through one's life.

If our boyhood, beauty, strength, and talent, and if we found fame, wealth, favor, and satisfaction, it is easy to be nice, and that we meet the world 's heart and approachable. But let 's just lose favor, beauty, strength, and health; let 's find ourselves patients, and unhappy, and without the hope of a clear recovery; only then will be tested strength of our means of moral and our personality, to the maximum

Increasingly now, week by week, the normal, unconscious feedback of proprioception was being replaced by an equally unconscious feedback by vision, by visual automatism and reflexes increasingly integrated and fluent.

Judgment is the most important faculty we have. An animal, or a man, may get on very well without ?abstract attitude? but will speedily perish if deprived of judgment. Judgment must be the first faculty of higher life or mind?yet it is ignored, or misinterpreted, by classical (computational) neurology. And if we wonder how such an absurdity can arise, we find it in the assumptions, or the evolution, of neurology itself.

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