Goodbye Oliver Sacks

by Anniel9/22/15

Oliver Sack’s Memoir, On the Move, was published in April of this year. As one of the most loved writers about neurology and the odd things that happen to people when their brains are under assault from illness or injury, there has been remarkably little attention paid to his death. He was born on July 9, 1933 in Willesden, London, England and died August 30, 2015 in Manhattan. Sacks never became a U.S. Citizen, but spent his professional life in America.

On the MoveSacks’ book, Awakenings, was a true story of his interactions with people who contracted Encephalitis lethargica during a 1920’s epidemic and had remained “asleep” until Sacks began working with them in the 1960’s. Treatment with L-DOPA caused many of them to awaken. Some of them, but not all, were restored to normalcy. In 1990 the story was made into a movie starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro.

Sacks went on to lecture and write many books dealing with the brain.

Dr. Sacks has said: “I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominate 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.”

A feeling of gratitude at the end of one’s life is such a blessing. And now Oliver Sacks moves on to his next journey.

Written with gratitude for Oliver Sacks.

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5 Responses to Goodbye Oliver Sacks

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I wasn’t aware that he died. One of my favorite books is The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. Short of taking drugs, you’ll never look at reality the same way after reading this.

    I didn’t know he was a homo. One reviewer noted:

    He struggled with being falsely accused of having inappropriate relations with patients, causing him to be celibate for 35 years, and feels slighted by peers for not supporting his writing.

    Sounds like he lived an active life from reading a brief bio of him. I certainly do recommend that one book.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    There’s some interesting information about Sacks in this NY Times article:

    A skilled pianist, Dr. Sacks often wrote about the relationship between music and the mind, eventually devoting a whole book, “Musicophilia” (2007), to the subject. Dr. Sacks disagreed with the Harvard psychologist and author Steven Pinker’s view of music as “auditory cheesecake,” and pointed to its ability to reach dementia patients as evidence that music appreciation is hard-wired into the brain.“I haven’t heard of a human being who isn’t musical, or who doesn’t respond to music one way or another,” he told an audience at Columbia University in 2006. “I think we are an essentially, profoundly musical species. And I don’t know whether — for all I know, language piggybacked on music.”

    It seems he was resented by the scientific community.

    In an otherwise laudatory review of “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” in The New York Times Book Review, the neuropsychologist John C. Marshall took issue with what he saw as Dr. Sacks’s faux-naïve presentation (“He would have us believe that an experienced neurologist could fail to have read anything about many of the standard syndromes”), and called his blend of medicine and philosophy “insightful, compassionate, moving and, on occasion, simply infuriating.”More damningly, the disability-rights activist Tom Shakespeare accused Dr. Sacks of exploiting the people he wrote about, calling him “the man who mistook his patients for a literary career.”

    I suspect this is because Sacks saw people as people, not mere material things to poke and prod. Clearly he brought an artist’s sensibility to his work…in a field quite possible populated by skilled dullards.

  3. Anniel says:

    I detest the people who simply cannot deal with the success of another human being. Tom Shakespeare sounds like a whiney brat who is jealous of anyone who can write better than he can. I have loved Sacks from the first time I read him, and his literary works have preserved the sanity of a lot of people, including our daughter who often relies on his writings to help her understand her situation a lot better. And yes, there are a lot of “skilled dullards” out there. We’ve met them and appreciate the apt description. I just may borrow it, so thank you.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Well, this “exploitation” thing is pure girly-man Cultural Marxism. I remember that Paul Simon (hardly a conservative bastion) received some heat when he recorded an album using some African musicians in Africa. This was considered “exploitation.”

      The scary thing is knowing that people who say such things have lost their mind. They’re simply reflexively regurgitating someone else’s charge without thinking about it themselves. Their reflexive action is a cowardly action because it’s not motivated by caring about whether anyone is actually exploited or not (whatever “exploitation” actually means). They’re simply beating the drum of PC language to make sure the Commissars of political correctness don’t come after them.

      So, in essence, these are cowardly collaborators, ready and willing to sell out their fellow human beings at the drop of a hat. This is why I say it is a scary thing. It’s scary to know that the people around you would so easily turn you into to the monstrous authorities and without even a second thought.

      Love him or hate him, Sacks wrote about case histories (from the relatively little reading I did). And at worst he brought attention and prestige to this fascinating field of the human brain. And you read these stories and more than a dose of humility is offered up, and not just because of “there but for the grace of God go I.” You gain a totally new perspective.

      My favorite story (and I think it was from one of his books) is of the man who had some brain injury but healed and was otherwise okay. He went to live with his parents. But he had a problem. Although his parents looked and talked exactly like this parents, something seemed wrong. He thought they were impostors. And no amount of assurance by his parents did any good.

      What I remember from this is that part of the damage to his brain included the areas where emotions are connected with facts. He had the “fact” that his parents really were his parents because they looked like his parents, sounded like his parents, lived in the same house that his parents do, and knew all the things that his real parents should. But he lacked the emotional connection to this fact. And although most of us think it is by pure “reason” that we understand the world, a case such as this brings that deeply into question. I certainly now do believe that a subtle emotion plays an enormous role in how we view the world — even if we think of ourselves a rational human beings who don’t decide things on something as problematic as emotion. And without that emotion, clearly we are lost.

      And this works both ways. Not only do we have to acknowledge the key role emotion plays in likely being able to know anything, we also have to acknowledge that this emotion can also get us to believe things that are completely unsupported by facts (but that are supported by the “feeling” of knowing…emotion).

      It’s a tricky business. We are emotional beings, and necessarily so. We gain site from this. But emotion can also blind us.

      And I am guessing that what irks a lot of people in Sack’s profession is their atheistic/materialist view of mankind. And it’s not as if Sacks also didn’t share this outlook to a great extent. It’s hard not to when you see all the funny things that happens to people via brain maladies. And yet it seems clear he was making excursions outside this idea that people are no more than the physical. His books gave meaning to these medical problems. And meaning is ultimately now a hostile idea to what are strictly considered “scientific” or technical professions.

      But who knows? What you can know for sure is that this crank shouting “exploitation” is just a useful idiot. And regarding this useful idiot, as Jimmy Buffet sang in “Miss you So Badly“:

      Were stayin’ in a Holiday Inn full of surgeons
      I guess they meet there once a year
      They exchange physician stories
      And get drunk on Tuborg beer
      Then they’re off to catch a stripper
      With their eyes glued to her G
      But I don’t think that I would ever let them cut on me

      • Timothy Lane says:

        There can be worse things than listening to surgeons at lunch. Michael Baden once noted that if you happen to eat a meal with a bunch of forensic entomologists (which can happen at a forensic science conference), you definitely don’t want to order rice.

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