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

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.

Music doesn?t have any special meaning; it depends what it?s attached to. For example, you think the Messiah is full of religious music, but a lot of the tunes in the Messiah, Handel took from bawdy Italian songs at the time. So the same music could go into an erotic context, a religious, a marital context, a pacific context. That?s why Gandhi and Hitler could dig the same music.

My religion is nature. That?s what arouses those feelings of wonder and mysticism and gratitude in me.

Over a lifetime, I have written millions of words, but the act of writing seems as fresh, and as much fun, as when I started it nearly seventy years ago.

Scheele, it was said, never forgot anything if it had to do with chemistry. He never forgot the look, the feel, the smell of a substance, or the way it was transformed in chemical reactions, never forgot anything he read, or was told, about the phenomena of chemistry. He seemed indifferent, or inattentive, to most things else, being wholly dedicated to his single passion, chemistry. It was this pure and passionate absorption in phenomena?noticing everything, forgetting nothing?that constituted Scheele's special strength.

Sudden fright, or rage, or other strong emotion may disperse and displace a migraine almost within seconds. One

The doctor 's office or hospital ward is not always the best place to observe the disease - or at least not the best place to observe the disorder appears, if the origin organically, in a rush, and tradition, and diagnosis, and reaction, and the reaction could be up to a degree cannot be believed almost ..

The power of music to integrate and cure... is quite fundamental. It is the profoundest nonchemical medication.

There is certainly a universal and unconscious propensity to impose a rhythm even when one hears a series of identical sounds at constant intervals... We tend to hear the sound of a digital clock, for example, as tick-tock, tick-tock - even though it is actually tick tick, tick tick.

This state is thus one of an excruciating overall sensitivity, patients being assaulted by sensory stimuli from their environment, or

Waking consciousness is dreaming ? but dreaming constrained by external reality

What is more important for us, at an elemental level, than the control, the owning and operation, of our own physical selves? And yet it is so automatic, so familiar, we never give it a thought.

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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