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

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 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.

Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat. But the power of music goes much, much further. Indeed, music occupies more areas of our brain than language does-humans are a musical species.

My own first love was biology. I spent a great part of my adolescence in the Natural History museum in London (and I still go to the Botanic Garden almost every day, and to the Zoo every Monday). The sense of diversity?of the wonder of innumerable forms of life?has always thrilled me beyond anything else.

Our efforts to ?re-connect? William all fail ? even increase his confabulatory pressure. But when we abdicate our efforts, and let him be, he sometimes wanders out into the quiet and undemanding garden which surrounds the Home, and there, in his quietness, he recovers his own quiet. The presence of others, other people, excites and rattles him, forces him into an endless, frenzied, social chatter, a veritable delirium of identity-making and -seeking; the presence of plants, a quiet garden, the non-human order, making no social or human demands upon him, allows this identity-delirium to relax, to subside; and by its quiet, non-human self-sufficiency and completeness allows him a rare quietness and self-sufficiency of his own, by offering (beneath, or beyond, all merely human identities and relations) a deep wordless communion with Nature itself, and with this the restored sense of being in the world, being real.

Requiem. A young neurophysiologist, Ralph Siegel, chanced to be sitting a few rows behind me; we had seen each other briefly the previous year when I had visited the Salk Institute, where he was one of Francis Crick?s prot‚g‚s. When Ralph saw that I had a notebook on my lap and was writing nonstop throughout the concert, he knew the bulky figure ahead of him had to be me.

Studies by Andrew Newberg and others have shown that long-term practice of meditation produces significant alterations in cerebral blood flow in parts of the brain related to attention, emotion, and some autonomic functions.

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 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.

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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