Oliver Sacks, Neurologist Who Wrote About the Brain’s Quirks, Dies at 82

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

My letter from Oliver Sacks.

Dr. Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and acclaimed author who explored some of the brain’s strangest pathways in best-selling case histories like “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” using his patients’ disorders as starting points for eloquent meditations on consciousness and the human condition, died on Sunday at his home in Manhattan. Oliver Sacks, left, receives his Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in London in 2008. But I walked into a stuffy upstairs room, tugged open a bi-fold closet door, shifted a few dated board games (“The Office” version of Clue?), and laid my hands on a letter that is 21 years old. Dr Sacks was renowned for his ability to examine his cases with a writer’s eye, creating popular science bestsellers which shed light on unusual and often severe neurological conditions.

Across his 13 books – and of course the 1990 film adaptation of Awakenings, starring Robin Williams as the doctor himself – Dr Sacks imparted his findings and encounters with his case studies through accessible, often moving prose, all of which touched on things to which we can all relate, from Here are some of his best words, from his “neurological novels” as he called them, from interviews and from his recently released autobiography, On The Move: A Life. “I sometimes wonder why I pushed myself so relentlessly in weight lifting. Sacks announced in February, in an Op-Ed essay in The New York Times, that an earlier melanoma in his eye had spread to his liver and that he was in the late stages of terminal cancer.

My motive, I think, was not an uncommon one; I was not the ninety-eight-pound weakling of bodybuilding advertisements, but I was timid, diffident, insecure, submissive. I became strong — very strong — with all my weight lifting but found that this did nothing for my character, which remained exactly the same.” “Music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional. More than a million copies of his books are in print in the United States, his work was adapted for film and stage, and he received about 10,000 letters a year. (“I invariably reply to people under 10, over 90 or in prison,” he once said.) Dr.

Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation.” “Now that we can listen to anything we like on our iPods, we have less motivation to go to concerts or churches or synagogues, less occasion to sing together. Sacks variously described his books and essays as case histories, pathographies, clinical tales or “neurological novels.” His subjects included Madeleine J., a blind woman who perceived her hands only as useless “lumps of dough”; Jimmie G., a submarine radio operator whose amnesia stranded him for more than three decades in 1945; and Dr. It is part apology, part genuine thanks, part surprisingly chummy riff by the brilliant neurologist on his own latest writings – there were photocopied enclosures – and exciting projects still to come. (“The Island of the Colorblind” was a few years from print.) The letter is classic Sacks. I fiercely wonder what life is like for them.” He is the gentlemanly old British schoolboy: “We didn’t make it at all easy for you,” he writes. I still have my iPod (it contains the complete works of Bach), but I also need to make music every day.” “I do not know how much a propensity to addiction is “hardwired” or how much it depends on circumstances or state of mind.

Sacks’s short letter – sweeping, evocative, articulate – had come to me in early 1994 when, just a year out of my 20s, I was still trying to be a little of all of those things. In the thrall of amphetamines, sleep was impossible, food was neglected, and everything was subordinated to the stimulation of the pleasure centers in my brain.” “My analyst tells me he’s never encountered anyone less affected by gay liberation.

I remain locked in my cell despite the dancing at the prison gates.” “People will make a life in their own terms, whether they are deaf or colourblind or autistic or whatever. Sacks modeled himself after a questing breed of 19th-century physicians, who well understood how little they and their peers knew about the workings of the human animal and who saw medical science as a vast, largely uncharted wilderness to be tamed. “I had always liked to see myself as a naturalist or explorer,” Dr. Sacks wrote in “A Leg to Stand On” (1984), about his own experiences recovering from muscle surgery. “I had explored many strange, neuropsychological lands — the furthest Arctics and Tropics of neurological disorder.” His intellectual curiosity took him even further. After exchanges with his only moderately motivated assistants I had finally flown up to Toronto one cold morning to hear him speak to a small gathering about the healing power of music. The British singer has six nominations to the American’s seven, with her star-studded Bad Blood video receiving nods in categories including best collaboration, best cinematography and video of the year.

Singer/songwriter Sia is the sole Australian on the list of nominees, fighting for best female video alongside Beyonce, Nicki Minaj, Ellie Goulding and Swift. It makes me an obsessional.” He was also a man of contradictions: candid and guarded, gregarious and solitary, clinical and compassionate, scientific and poetic, British and almost American. “In 1961, I declared my intention to become a United States citizen, which may have been a genuine intention, but I never got round to it,” he told The Guardian in 2005. From what this rumpled figure haltingly offered from the dais, and from the hundreds of column inches of copy I’d read about his work, I ground out my portrait of this doctor of the soul.

Sacks first won widespread attention in 1973 for his book “Awakenings,” about a group of patients with an atypical form of encephalitis at Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx. Sacks started his clinical career there, in 1966, many of the patients had been catatonic, locked inside themselves for decades as a result of their “sleeping sickness.” Dr. Sacks congratulated me on having been able to “synthesize,” on conveying the details of his complex work, on having been “sympathetic.” Sacks had stopped typing only when his words had unevenly grazed the printed, page-ending line bearing his address, an apartment in lower Manhattan. Sacks gave them the drug L-dopa, which was just beginning to be recognized as a treatment for similar symptoms in patients with Parkinson’s, then watched as they emerged into a world they did not recognize. Sacks began his medical career as a researcher but gave up early, conceding that he had neither the temperament nor the eye-hand coordination for it. “I lost samples,” he told an interviewer in 2005. “I broke machines.

They matter less.’ ” Yet even after he left research for clinical practice, he retained his scientific curiosity and his intuition for asking big questions. And I don’t know whether — for all I know, language piggybacked on music.” Referring to Nietzsche’s claim that listening to Bizet had made him a better philosopher, Dr. Sacks said, “I think Mozart makes me a better neurologist.” Oliver Wolf Sacks was born on July 9, 1933, in London, the youngest of four sons of Samuel Sacks and the former Muriel Elsie Landau, who were both doctors. But in “Uncle Tungsten,” his 2001 memoir about his childhood love of chemistry, he explained that the inflamed Zionist meetings his parents held before the war helped turn him away from organized religion. “The thousand and one questions I asked as a child,” he wrote, “were seldom met by impatient or peremptory answers, but careful ones which enthralled me (though they were often above my head). I was encouraged from the start to interrogate, to investigate.” When World War II broke out, his parents sent Oliver and his brother Michael to a rural boarding school that Dr.

Sacks moved to America in the early 1960s for an internship at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco, then did his residency at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2007, at 74, he severed his 42-year relationship with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to accept an interdisciplinary teaching position at Columbia. Edgar, who described herself as his “collaborator, friend, researcher and editor” as well, wrote in an email: “He is still writing with great clarity.

Sacks considered the importance of the Sabbath in human culture and concluded: “And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself.

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