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 can have wonderful, formal, quasi-mathematical perfection, and it can have heartbreaking tenderness, poignancy, and beauty. But it does not have to have any 'meaning' whatever. One may recall music, give it the life of imagination simply because one likes it - this is reason enough. Or perhaps there may be no reason at all, as Rodolfo Llinas points out.

My mother showed me that when tin or zinc was bent it uttered a special ?cry?. ?It?s due to deformation of the crystal structure,? she said, forgetting that I was five, and could not understand her - and yet her words fascinated me, made me want to know more.

One must go to Dostoyevsky who experienced on occasion ecstatic epileptic auras to which he attached momentous significance, to find an adequate historical parallel.

Psychotic hallucinations, whether they are visual or vocal, they address you. They accuse you. They seduce you. They humiliate you. They jeer at you. You interact with them.

Speaking of these attitudes turned Temple?s mind to a parallel: I find a very high correlation, she said, between the way animals are treated and the handicapped.? Georgia is a snake pit?they treat [handicapped people] worse than animals.? Capital-punishment states are the worst animal states and the worst for the handicapped.

The combination of mental and physical practice leads to greater performance improvement than does physical practice alone, a phenomenon for which our findings provide a physiological explanation. - Alvaro Pascual-Leone

The periodic table was incredibly beautiful, the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I could never adequately analyze what I meant here by beauty ? simplicity? coherence? rhythm? inevitability? Or perhaps it was the symmetry, the comprehensiveness of every element firmly locked into its place, with no gaps, no exceptions, everything implying everything else.

There are, of course, inherent tendencies to repetition in music itself. Our poetry, our ballads, our songs are full of repetition; nursery rhymes and the little chants and songs we use to teach young children have choruses and refrains. We are attracted to repetition, even as adults; we want the stimulus and the reward again and again, and in music we get it. Perhaps, therefore, we should not be surprised, should not complain if the balance sometimes shifts too far and our musical sensitivity becomes a vulnerability.

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 experience.' I was stunned. As I stepped out of the car to say goodbye, I said, 'I'm going to hug you. I hope you don't mind.' I hugged her?and (I think) she hugged me back.

Transient states of depersonalization are appreciably commoner during migraine auras. Freud reminds us that ? the ego is first and foremost a body-ego ? the mental projection of the surface of the body. The sense of self appears to be based, fundamentally, on a continuous inference from the stability of body-image, the stability of outward perceptions, and the stability of time-perception. Feelings of ego-dissolution readily and promptly occur if there is serious disorder or instability of body-image, external perception, or time-perception, and all of these, as we have seen, may occur during the course of a migraine aura.

We speak not only to tell other people what we think, but to tell ourselves what we think. Speech is a part of thought.

When the documentary of 'Awakenings' was made in '73, the first thing the film director asked was, 'Could we meet the music therapist? She seems to be the most important person around here.?

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 complex integration of the three secret senses: the labyrinthine, the proprioceptive, and the visual. It is this synthesis that is impaired in Parkinsonism. The

The players are connected. Each player, interpreting the music individually, constantly modulates and is modulated by the others. There is no final or master interpretation; the music is collectively created, and every performance is unique. This is Edelman?s picture of the brain, as an orchestra, an ensemble, but without a conductor, an orchestra which makes its own music.

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.

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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