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The following is an excerpt from a Q&A with Dr. Sacks published on Omnivoracious, the Amazon Books blog. Click here to read the full interview.
Mia Lipman: In Hallucinations, you mention that your childhood migraines are one of the reasons you became a neurologist. How did they help shape your path?
Dr. Sacks: My experiences go back to my first memories of when I was three or four, suddenly seeing a brilliant zigzag which seemed to be vibrating, then enlarged and covered everything to one side. This has happened innumerable times since, but that first time was very terrifying…I know I was in the garden, and part of the garden wall seemed to disappear, and I asked my mother about it. She too had classical migraines, so she explained what it was about and said that it was benign and it would only last a few minutes, and I'd be none the worse. So though I'm not in love with the attacks, it's nice to know that one can live with this quite well.
So that early experience made you curious about why this was happening to you?
Indeed, and there were other experiences. Sometimes it was just color, perhaps in one half of the visual field, or things would be frozen and I couldn't see any movement. So I think this gave me a very early feeling that it's only the privilege of a normal brain which allows us to see the way we do—and that what seems to be a simple vision in fact must have dozens of different components, and any one of these can go down. So it was a learning experience for me as well.
Speaking of learning experiences, you talk in the book about a period in your 30s when you did a lot of hallucinogenic drugs—
Ah, I thought that would come up. [Laughing.]
Of course, it's the best part! I especially liked your description of the results as "a mix of the neurological and the divine." What did this self-experimentation teach you about your field, as well as personally?
I can't conceal that my motives were sort of mixed, but these were learning experiences as well as recreational ones, and occasionally terrifying ones. The gain, I think, [is that] it's a way of revealing various capacities and incapacities in the brain, including, perhaps, mystical ones…I quote William James, who, after taking nitrous oxide, said that it showed him there were many forms of consciousness other than rational consciousness, and that these seem to be uncovered one by one. And that's quite an experience. I do not recommend it to anybody, and I hope my writing about these things is not seen as a recommendation. I think I'm very lucky to have survived them, which several of my friends and contemporaries didn't.
Hallucinations is a fascinating addition to the Oliver Sacks bookshelf.
He is a good storyteller; looking back at my book I notice things like a marginal note I made next to a description of a man who lost his sense of smell, "So sad".
Well written, clear explanations and Dr Sacks' style of writing make this a very enjoyable book.
In this book Oliver Sacks talked about various forms of hallucinations, from Charles Bonnet Syndrome to self- induced altered states. Read morePublished 4 days ago by nagera
A comprehensive and eloquently written book on a very fascinating topic. Sacks connected past and present research and case histories to elucidate processes that were once thought... Read morePublished 10 days ago by L. Garber
Easy to read and full of interesting stories from Sacks' patients and his personal life.Published 14 days ago by Caitlin
It's amazing how our brains construct our perception, not always in sync with the real world. To those with brain disruptions hallucinations are indistinguishable from reality and... Read morePublished 16 days ago by Robert Salmon
This is an excellent discussion of the many kinds of hallucinations. What struck me most is the numerous harmless ones we humans are prone to. Read morePublished 21 days ago by Elizabeth Trogdon
The writing is so small and crowded I am put off reading it. I have moved onto a book with decent font size for now.Published 1 month ago by Christine Dwyer
As always, Socks delights with his descriptions of neurological conditions.Published 1 month ago by JeanneGenie