Requiescat in Pace: Oliver Sacks

Cross posted from Coffeefied,Operafied,Fluffified,Beglittered, and written in collaboration with (and honestly the majority by) my wonderful big sister.  Cross posted here with her gracious permission. 

Oliver Sacks is dead.

I owe him, through his many books, a great debt of doubt and curiosity and wonder.

I constantly marvel at his vivid observations, his wide reading, his zest for life, and his deep compassion and respect for his patients.  He met and worked with and wrote about many who lived (and live) in a reality so far removed from my experience that it might as well be another star system.

In a world of sermons and sunday school filled with assertions about how people think and feel, coupled with dismissive scorn for people not thinking or feeling in approved ways, the books of Oliver Sacks were a fact-based object lesson on the complexity of the world.  His example of people who perceived events happening in reverse order to how others perceived them made me acutely aware that our bodies are a fragile and unreliable instrument for judging reality, and our experiences of reality can vary widely from the experiences of those around us.

A few of the things that most touched me from a few of my favorite books:

From The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat: Our selves are not separate from our bodies.  We are inescapably beings who exist in time, and a true loss of memory, of the ability to make a continuous story through time, is the loss of ourselves.

From Awakenings: And yet how we organize and process time may not be, on the smaller levels, continuous, but quantized.  It is not turtles all the way down!



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From The Island of the Colorblind: The ancient and the ephemeral, cycads and Nan Madol.  Achromatopsia and evolution and Humboldt and phosphorescent seas.  The slaughter of entire cultures and ecosystems by imperialistic Christianity, U.S.A brand.  The hell the U.S.A. has made of some Pacific coral reef islands by testing nuclear weapons.

From An Anthropologist on Mars: Seeing is not perceiving.  Love and beauty are not universally experienced.

From Uncle Tungsten:  A lyrical recounting of history, both Sacks’ own and slices of the history of modern science in Europe, with all its beauty and passion and chemical burns and mistakes and trying again.  The reason why I will always remember the chemical symbol for tungsten.

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Elizabeth is a professional belly dancer, a flaky computer scientist, and a returned Peace Corps volunteer. She lives in Georgia (the state of the U.S., not the country) but is nonetheless somehow not a combination of stereotypes from Gone with the Wind and Deliverance. Her personal blog is Coffeefied. Operafied. Fluffified. Beglittered.

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