The Fully Immersive Mind of Oliver Sacks

Myself into the body of that little boy. And in the second memory”—the thermite bomb—“it’s as if I’m seeing a brilliantly illuminated scene from a film: I cannot locate myself anywhere in the scene.”

Sacks has been turning his analytical gaze inward more often these days, after four decades of studying the minds of those with such disorders as autism, Tourette’s syndrome, loss of proprioception, and the sudden onset of color blindness. His tales from the borderlands of the mind, translated into 21 languages, have earned Sacks a worldwide readership. This month, he will be awarded the Lewis Thomas Prize by Rockefeller University, given to scientists who have made a significant achievement in literature, and his insights have been ported to a broader range of media than those of any other contemporary medical author. His 1973 book, Awakenings out of his bag and took a seat at the piano while the patient sang, thus discovering that the teacher’s disordered mind became fluid and coherent as long as the music lasted. In the age of two-minute consultations, such stories have an obvious human charm. But less obvious are the ways that Sacks’ methods have pushed against the tide of 100 years of medical practice.

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