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 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 there are dozens or hundreds of different forms of creativity. Pondering science and math problems for years is different from improvising jazz. Something which seems to me remarkable is how unconscious the creative process is. You encounter a problem, but can't solve it.

If we want to know so and so , we ask: What 's his story - the real story deeper? - Because every one of us is a biography and a story. Each one of us is a unique tale of being installed and constantly unconsciously by us and through us and in us through our perceptions and our feelings and our thoughts and our actions , and not least by our conversation and our stories spoken. We do not disagree about each other very much biologically and physiologically, but historically, Kqss, all unique!

Is there any reason, we must wonder, why particular songs (or scenes) are ?selected? by particular patients for reproduction in their hallucinatory seizures?

Lev Vygotsky, the great Russian psychologist, used to speak of thinking in pure meanings. I cannot decide whether this is nonsense or profound truth?it is the sort of reef I end up on when I think about thinking.

Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation. One does not have to know anything about Dido and Aeneas to be moved by her lament for him; anyone who has ever lost someone knows what Dido is expressing. And there is, finally, a deep and mysterious paradox here, for while such music makes one experience pain and grief more intensely, it brings solace and consolation at the same time.

My predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness, as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.? Looking back on my own experiences, they all converge towards a kind of insight to which I cannot help ascribing some mystical significance. The keynote of it is invariably a reconciliation. It is as if the opposites of the world, whose contradictoriness and conflict make all our difficulties and troubles, were melted into unity.? To me [this sense] only comes in the artificial mystic state of mind.

Rhythm and its entrainment of movement (and often emotion), in both senses of the word, may well have had a crucial cultural and economic function in human evolution, bringing people together, producing a sense of collectivity and community.

Such epileptic hallucinations or dreams, Penfield showed, are never phantasies: they are always memories, and memories of the most precise and vivid kind, accompanied by the emotions which accompanied the original experience. Their extraordinary and consistent detail, which was evoked each time the cortex was stimulated, and exceeded anything which could be recalled by ordinary memory, suggested to Penfield that the brain retained an almost perfect record of every lifetime?s experience, that the total stream of consciousness was preserved in the brain, and, as such, could always be evoked or called forth, whether by the ordinary needs and circumstances of life, or by the extraordinary circumstances of an epileptic or electrical stimulation.

The doctor and the patient two equals, learn from each other and assisted other and reach together new knowledge and treatment.

The power of music and the plasticity of the brain go together very strikingly, especially in young people.

There is an enormous and rapidly growing body of work on the neural underpinnings of musical perception and imagery? These new insights of neuroscience are exciting beyond measure, but there is always a certain danger that the simple art of observation may be lost, that clinical description may become perfunctory, and the richness of the human context ignored.

This sense of the brain?s remarkable plasticity, its capacity for the most striking adaptations, not least in the special (and often desperate) circumstances of neural or sensory mishap, has come to dominate my own perception of my patients and their lives. So much so, indeed, that I am sometimes moved to wonder whether it may not be necessary to redefine the very concepts of health and disease, to see these in terms of the ability of the organism to create a new organization and order, one that fits its special, altered disposition and needs, rather than in the terms of a rigidly defined norm.

Visual illusions, too, fascinated me; they showed how intellectual understanding, insight, and even common sense were powerless against the force of perceptual distortions. Gibson?s inverting glasses showed the power of the mind to rectify optical distortions, where visual illusions showed its inability to correct perceptual ones.

What is beyond dispute is the effect of intensive musical training on the young, plastic brain. Although a teaspoon of Mozart may or may not make a child a better mathematician, there is little doubt that regular exposure to music and especially active participation in music, may stimulate development of many different areas of the brain.

Where was I? What had been done? I replied that I was in the recovery room and that he had detached the lateral rectus muscle of the right eye and attached the plaque containing radioiodine (I-125, to be precise) to the sclera. I said that I was sorry it was not radioactive ruthenium instead of iodine (I have a thing for the platinum metals) but that 125, at least, was memorable for being the smallest number that was the sum of two squares in two different ways. I startled myself as I said this; I had not thought it out before?it just jumped into my mind. (I realized, a few minutes later, that I was wrong?65 is the smallest such number.)

I think there is no culture in which music is not very important and central. That's why I think of us as a sort of musical species.

If we wish to know about a man, we ask ?what is his story?his real, inmost story???for each of us is a biography, a story. Each of us is a singular narrative, which is constructed, continually, unconsciously, by, through, and in us?through our perceptions, our feelings, our thoughts, our actions; and, not least, our discourse, our spoken narrations. Biologically, physiologically, we are not so different from each other; historically, as narratives?we are each of us unique.

It also gave me a feeling of vulnerability and mortality which I had not really had before.

Life must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards.

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