Showing 11 - 14 of 14 annotations associated with Sacks, Oliver
P., a music teacher, whose associates have questioned his perception, is referred by his ophthalmologist to the neurologist Oliver Sacks. During the first office visit, Sacks notices that P. faces him with his ears, not his eyes. His gaze seems unnatural, darting and fixating on the doctor's features one at a time. At the end of the interview, at which his wife is present, P. appears to grasp his wife's head and try to lift it off and put it on his own head. "He had . . . mistaken his wife for a hat!" She gave no sign that anything odd had happened.
During the second interview, at P.'s home, P. is unable to recognize the rose in Sacks' lapel, describing it as "a convoluted red form with a linear green attachment." He is encouraged to speculate on what it might be, and guesses it could be a flower. When he smells it, he comes to life and knows it. The wife explains that P. functions by making little songs about what he is doing--dressing, washing or eating. If the song is interrupted he simply stops, till he finds in his sensorium a clue on how to proceed.
This cantatory method of compensating allows P. to function undetected in his professional and personal life. He remains unaware that he has a problem. Sacks chooses not to disturb his ignorant bliss with a diagnosis. Though his disease (never diagnosed but hypothesized as a tumor or degeneration of the visual cortex) advances, P. lives and works in apparent normalcy to the end of his days.
This is one of the two dozen studies of patients with right-brain disorders that make up Sacks's volume The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. The nineteen-year-old Rebecca has significant physical and mental defects (her IQ is 60 at best), and by conventional neurological standards she is severely impaired, but Sacks discovers that she has moments of being quite in touch and "together" (her word).
The essay tells of Sacks's discovery of Rebecca's poetic expression and spiritual qualities, and of her self-awareness, in planes unknown to standard neurological and psychiatric categories. Sacks is broadly critical of psychological and neurological testing as constituting a "defectology" that is blind to important human qualities. He warmly recommends music and story-telling, both as modes of understanding and also as narrative therapies that work by ignoring the defects and speaking to the soul.
This book, which is subtitled "Seven Paradoxical Tales," contains seven of Oliver Sacks' clinical stories of persons whose unusual neurological deficits teach us something about the way the brain (and, therefore, the mind) works. In "The Case of the Colorblind Painter" an artist learns to adapt to a completely black-and-white world after sustaining trauma to his occipital lobe.
"The Last Hippie" portrays a man whose ability to form new memories was destroyed by a massive midline brain tumor; he still "lives" in the 1960's. "A Surgeon's Life" depicts a Canadian surgeon with Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome, showing how he is able to live as a respected member of the community and practice surgery despite this disabling condition. "To See and Not See" tells the tale of a man in his 50's who is suddenly able to see after being blind since early childhood.
In "The Landscape of His Dreams" Sacks introduces a painter who, after a serious illness in the 1960's, apparently developed extraordinary and persistent "waking visions" of Pontito, his hometown in Italy. For many years he has obsessively painted remarkably accurate scenes of Pontito. "Prodogies" and "An Anthropologist on Mars" both deal with autism. The first tells of an autistic boy from England who has remarkable skill in visual memory and drawing; the second is about an autistic woman with a Ph.D. in animal science, who teaches at Colorado State University.
In Book I Oliver Sacks describes his visit to Pingelap and Pohnpei in the Caroline Islands (now a part of the Federated States of Micronesia). On Pingelap (population 700) 5-10% of the people are completely colorblind; i.e. they have a rare hereditary condition called achromatopsia in which the retina has no functional cone cells. Rod cells, which normally provide peripheral and night vision, are their only source of vision. While partial colorblindness is common, achromatopsia is normally very rare. Sacks and Knut Nordby, a Norwegian scientist who is himself achromatopic, examined dozens of achromatopes on Pingelap and in a village of Pingelapese people on the larger Pohnpei.
In Book II Sacks takes the reader to Guam where he investigates (with his friend John Steele, a neurologist who lives on the island) the neurological disease called "lytico-bodig." The "lytico" form of this disease is a progressive paralysis similar to amyotropic lateral sclerosis, while the "bodig" form resembles parkinsonism. Both appeared in Guam after the Second World Way and now seem to be dying out. However, no one has ever determined their cause.
Sacks tells the story of his visit, while also discussing various hypotheses that have been considered and discarded over forty years of study. The last section of the book describes a trip to Rota, a small island north of Guam, where Sacks visits a forest of cycad trees and discusses his life-long fascination with these primitive plants.