|De Quincey inspired Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique|
The New York Times calls Sacks “the poet laureate of medicine.” You may recognize this teller of clinical tales from his essays since 1992 in the New Yorker, under “The Neurologist’s Notebooks” heading. These shorter studies often end up anchoring a train of revelations in Sacks’ sensational books, such as The Mind's Eye (2010), which reel out the improbable alterations in life caused by various levels of brain damage or crisis.
|The Bronx Brit Bard of the Brain|
More recently, Sacks shared stories about Clive Wearing, a man whose memory only lasts a few seconds, or the surgeon with Tourette’s syndrome, or the doctor struck by lightning who suddenly became an obsessive pianist, or the woman called “Stereo Sue” who only realized in her 50s that she had seen her entire life out of one eye when she had a perfectly good second eye. Just as Stereo Sue had to learn to see in 3-D, Sacks recently had to navigate a newly flattened world in his 70s, with the loss of vision in one eye due to an inoperable tumor.
Hallucinations (2012), which not only reveals Sacks’ somewhat scary psychedelic trips, but also attempts to dissect the varieties of hallucinogenic experience, such as the auras preceding epileptic fits or migraines, the phenomenon of sightless people ‘seeing’ patterns or figures or obstructions, or the experience of feeling sure that something is there when in fact, it is not—like a ghost, or a presence. He relates his rather famous anecdotes about a heady philosophical exchange with a spider, and the day that he had a long conversation with two old friends in his kitchen, took orders, and made them a meal, only to find out that they had never been in his apartment at all, but in fact, were miles and miles away.
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain (2012) for contrast, which investigates our wondrous beans from a more technical purview. One of his lab experiments involves dropping a witting subject from 150 feet, to figure out where the brain goes when our lives ‘flash before our eyes.’ You see the, um, subtle contrast in this methodology, I’m sure. (He hasn’t lost anyone yet.) Yikes. Interesting, but yikes.
Art and architectural historian Karen Mulder has not been dropped from 150 feet in a harness...she has been dropped from 200 feet. If you find this of any interest, be sure to check out Daedalus' forum on the brain.