Oliver Sacks was a great British neurologist and writer who died in 2015 from terminal liver cancer.
Throughout his life he published numerous works, among which the following stand out: “The man who mistook his wife for a hat”, “An anthropologist on Mars” or “Awakenings”.
The best phrases and reflections of Oliver Sacks
There were many quotes full of wisdom pronounced by this character. That is why, in this article, we have prepared a list of his most brilliant phrases .
1. We speak not only to tell people what we think, but we say what we think. Speech is a part of thinking
Through speech we can communicate our thoughts and emotions with others.
2. There are defects, illnesses and disorders that can play a paradoxical role, revealing capacities, developments, evolutions, latent forms of life, which may never be seen, or even imagined in their absence
Mental problems and illnesses can change the way we relate to our environment.
3. I can’t pretend to be someone without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude
Oliver Sacks reflecting on what his life had been.
4. And then, as if painted with a giant brush, a huge trembling pear-shaped stain of the purest indigo emerged. Luminous, numinous, it filled me with ecstasy: it was the color of the sky, the color, I told myself, that Giotto had spent his life trying to find without succeeding, perhaps because the color of the sky is not seen on earth
A quote from his work called “Hallucinations”.
5. When faith in traditional figures – demons, witches or harpies – is lost, new ones take their place: aliens, apparitions from “a previous life”
He was always interested in the inner world of people with psychotic disorders.
6. Patients who showed delirium were almost always in medical or surgical wards, not in neurological or psychiatric wards, because delirium usually indicates a medical problem, a consequence of something that affects the whole body, including the brain, and which disappears as soon as the medical problem is solved
A reflection on how people suffering from a delusional disorder are treated.
7. Humans share many things with other animals-the basic needs for food and drink, or sleep, for example-but there are additional mental and emotional needs and desires that are unique to humans
Humans have superior capabilities that other animals do not possess.
8. Studies by Andrew Newberg and others have shown that the ongoing practice of meditation produces significant alterations in blood circulation in parts of the brain related to attention, emotion, and some autonomic functions
Meditation has proven to have enormous benefits for people’s emotional health.
9. There is only one golden rule: one must always listen to the patient
The treatment of the patient must be individualized and therefore needs to be listened to.
10. Every act of perception is to some extent an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some extent an act of imagination
A sentence by Oliver Sacks that invites the reader to deep reflection.
11. Music, unique among the arts, is both completely abstract and deeply emotional
Music has the power to modify our behavior and affect our emotional state.
12. People are going to build a life on their own terms, whether they are deaf or colorblind or autistic or whatever. And their world will be as rich and interesting and full as our world can be
We all build our own scheme of the world even if we have limitations.
13. There will be no one like us when we are gone, there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. Holes come out that cannot be filled, since it is the destiny – the fate and the neuronal genetics – of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own way, to live his own life, and to die his own death
Each of us has unique personal characteristics that make us different and irreplaceable.
14. I believe that the brain is a dynamic system in which some parts exercise control or suppress it. And if perhaps one has damage in one of the areas that control or suppress, then it is possible the appearance of something unexpected, it can be an attack, a different feature or even a sudden passion for music
Our brain allows us to experience unique and impressive things.
15. If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows that he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost the self, if he has lost himself, he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it
When someone does not know himself in depth or connect with himself, he finds himself in a state of confusion and existential crisis.
16. Just as we can be horrified by the havoc caused by the development of a disease or disorder, we can also see them as something creative, because even when they destroy particular procedures, a particular way of doing things, they may force the nervous system to create other procedures and ways, which force it to an unexpected development and evolution
Positive thinking, despite the negative aspects of an illness, is the best way to deal with it.
17. The brain is much more dedicated to movement than the tongue. Language is only a little of what exists within this immense ocean of movement
There are things that we cannot express in words, but must limit ourselves to feeling.
18. I have to live in the richest, deepest and most productive way I can
When someone suffers from a disease like cancer, they learn to accept the vastness of life.
19. Personality change in temporal lobe epilepsy may be the most important key we possess in deciphering the neurological systems that are the foundation of emotional forces guiding behavior
When the frontal lobe is affected by a disease, the person’s personality changes.
20. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal on this beautiful planet, and this in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure
Oliver Sacks considered himself a great person.
21. I feel like I should be trying to complete my life, whatever it means to complete a life
A phrase he uttered once he knew he had cancer.
22. Each of us has a life story whose continuity, whose meaning, is our own life
Throughout our lives we form an image of ourselves that accompanies us throughout our lives.
23. I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasm and lack of moderation in all my passions
Possibly, Sacks went so far in the professional arena because of the passion he felt for what he was doing.
24. And, in its broadest sense, Neural Darwinism implies that we are destined, whether we like it or not, to a life of uniqueness and self-development, to create our own individual paths through life
Our brain has an immense capacity to adapt.
25. All of us (with very few exceptions) can perceive music, tones, timbre, intervals, melodic contours, harmony and (perhaps in a particularly elementary way) rhythm. We integrate all these things and “build” the music in our minds using many different parts of the brain. And to this largely unconscious structural appreciation of music is added an often intense and deep emotional reaction
This character has always been interested in the relationship between music and the brain.
26. The power of music to integrate and heal… is quite fundamental. It is the deepest non-chemical medicine
The power of music is such that it is used as a form of therapy. It’s what’s known as music therapy.
27. To remember is always to rebuild, not to reproduce
Imagination and our perception of life have a great influence on what we remember about events or occurrences.
28. Empirical science, empiricism, does not take into account the soul, does not take into account what constitutes and determines the personal self
Excessive empiricism can leave out some phenomena that are difficult to measure.
29. My religion is nature. This is what awakens feelings of wonder, mystique, and gratitude in me
Nature can surprise us many times, but it is rewarding to get lost in it.
30. Psychotic hallucinations, whether visual or auditory, seduce you, direct you, humiliate you, make fun of you… You can interact with them
People who suffer hallucinations feel them as real, and perceive them as if they will actually exist.
31. We see with our eyes, but we see with our brain as well. And seeing with the brain is often called imagination
If the area of the brain that deals with vision is affected, our vision will not be the same.
32. Many revolutions, transformations, awakenings, are reactions to immediate (and unbearable) circumstances
Many times, the change is the result of an unsustainable situation.
33. I must also remember that sex is one of those things – like religion and politics – that can arouse intense and irrational feelings in otherwise decent and rational people
Sex is one of the best experiences we human beings can have.
34. I feel a clear focus and sudden perspective. There is no time for anything unessential
Living the present is the only thing we can experience unlike the present and the past.
35. In examining the disease, we gain wisdom about anatomy, physiology and biology. In examining the person with disease, we gain wisdom about life
When the disease affects a person, they become more aware of their surroundings.
36. Any illness introduces a duplication in life: an “it”, with its own needs, demands and limitations.
Illness brings with it a different view of life, something we may not have stopped to reflect on.
37. Now I’m face to face with death. But I am not finished with life
Sacks’ illness I can handle, but at the time I said this sentence I didn’t know.
38. They are great survivors, and while the dinosaurs appeared and disappeared, the ferns are still here
A reflection that speaks to the complexity of the mind.
39. The human being is not lacking in mind, he is not mentally deficient, because he does not have language, but he is very seriously limited in the scope of his thought, confined in reality to an immediate, small world
Language has a great effect on how we think and relate.
40. You can have feelings for plants, although they probably don’t have feelings for us
Humans and plants are different, and plants can’t think because they don’t have brains.
41. No two people describe an event in the same way. Neither of them lies: they see things from different perspectives, make their own associations, have their own emotions
Each person experiences life differently and interprets it based on their beliefs, expectations, patterns, etc.
42. To be ourselves we must have our life stories. We must “remember” ourselves, remember the inner drama, the narrative of ourselves. A man needs a continuous inner narrative, to maintain his identity, his self
Memory is essential for us to be able to build our identity and a vision of the world.
43. I will almost certainly not witness my birthday as polonium (number 84), nor would I want polonium near me, with its intense and murderous radioactivity
Sacks knew that his illness could bring about his end, but he never lost faith.
44. I knew that music seemed to somehow overcome, at least for a few minutes, Parkinson’s disease, and set them free, allowed them free movement
Music has incredible therapeutic benefits even for those with Parkinson’s.
45. I have loved and been loved, I have received much and given something in return, I have read, and traveled, and thought, and written
A self-reported definition of Oliver Sacks’ life.
46. Three times I tried to be a serious scientist, but all three times it went terribly wrong and I could see the look of relief on my colleagues’ faces when they understood that I was giving up
Despite these words, Sacks was a great science communicator.
47. Remember that you can be old without being close to death
There are people who, despite not being old, feel old and do not enjoy their life to the full.
48. It is easy to detect a lie with a detector or with physiological programming because lying is difficult. Telling the truth is easier, but if you leave out the word truth, if you use the term believe, you will see, for example, that there are people who believe they have been abducted by aliens. And they are not lying, they are confused, which is different
One must know how to differentiate between those who lie intentionally and those who believe they are telling the truth even though it is not true.
49. Being a patient forces one to think
When one feels sick, one can seriously reflect on what life is all about.
50. Flexibility, resistance, and uncertainty, that kind of adventure, are in our nervous system, they are part of life
When he talks about the nervous system, he means our brain. In other words, the reality we live in is a construction of his.
51. Everything that has a beginning must have an end
Unfortunately, everything that starts, sooner or later, ends.
52. Sometimes illness can teach us what is valuable in life and allow us to live it more intensely
Cancer, no doubt, made Oliver Sacks reflect deeply on his existence and what life is all about.
53. The disease must be studied with the sensitivity of a novelist
A quote that refers to the need to study the pathologies with impetus.
54. I have had a relationship with the world, the special relationship of writers and readers
Throughout his life, Sacks did things he was very proud of.
55. And, above all, I have been a sensitive being, a thinking animal on this beautiful planet, and that, in itself, has been an enormous privilege and an adventure
Sensitivity was one of the characteristic features of this character.
I don’t know what I just did or where I’m coming from right now… I can remember my past very well but I have no memory of my present
A phrase taken from his play “The Man Who Mistaken His Wife for a Hat”.