Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Oliver Sacks, Polymath


I am a sucker for obituaries.

Whenever I access magazines like the Economist or the New Yorker, this is one column I rarely miss. But last week I came across one in the Indian Express (originally, an NYT piece), and since then, I have been devouring just about everything I can find - opeds, features, and, of course, more obituraries. I found myself going all over the internet reading as many obituaries and articles I could find on one man: Oliver Sacks.

Oliver Sacks passed away a few days ago. During his 82-year life-span, he was described as a world-renowned neurologist, a world-champion weightlifter, a best-selling author, a naturalist, and a lifelong enthusiast of physical chemistry.

How many talents can the Gods bestow on one man?!?

NYT describes him as a person who - "...leapfrogged among disciplines, shedding light on the strange and wonderful interconnectedness of life — the connections between science and art, physiology and psychology, the beauty and economy of the natural world and the magic of the human imagination."

Now I find that Sacks was an old friend to another science writer I admire - Vilayanur.S. Ramachandran, author of Phantom in the Brain. In a conversation between these two profs, other famous authors are mentioned - George Gamow, Stephen Jay Gould, Lewis Thomas and Peter Medawar -- all of whom, I am ashamed to admit, I had never heard before!

This must be the first time an obituary is leaving me with such long list of authors and books to read!

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LINKS

* Website - http://www.oliversacks.com/
* Oliver Sachs - Obituary - http://time.com/4016214/oliver-sacks-82/?xid=newsletter-brief
* http://www.brainpickings.org/2015/05/18/oliver-sacks-on-the-move/
* NYT Obit - http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/31/arts/oliver-sacks-wrote-awakenings-and-cast-light-on-the-interconnectedness-of-life.html?_r=0
http://www.financialexpress.com/article/miscellaneous/oliver-sacks-best-selling-author-and-neurologist-dies-at-82-of-cancer/127834/
* Raghavan, RK (The Hindu) - http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/neurologist-writer-healer/article7629878.ece
* The Wire - http://thewire.in/2015/09/10/the-community-the-clinic-and-the-road-not-taken-10400/

Books:

- 1967 - On Migraine
- 1973 - Awakenings - on patients who suffered from a condition known as Encephalitis lethargica
- 1985 - The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
- 2007 book, “Musicophilia,” looked at the relationship between music and the brain
- 2001 memoir
 “Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood”
- “The Island of the Colorblind” (1997) about a society where congenital colorblindness was common, “Seeing Voices” (1989) about the world of deaf culture, and “Hallucinations” (2012), in which Sacks discussed his own hallucinations as well as those of some patients.
- gave us case studies of patients whose stories were so odd, so anomalous, so resonant that they read like tales by Borges or Calvino.
-  illnesses and disorders “can play a paradoxical role in bringing out latent powers, developments, evolutions, forms of life that might never be seen or even be imaginable in their absence.” A young woman with a low I.Q. learns to sing arias in more than 30 languages, and a Canadian physician with Tourette’s syndrome learns to perform long, complicated surgical procedures without a single tic or twitch.


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