And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.
-Oliver Sacks, “Sabbath,” August 17, 2015
Many years ago, I listened to my Intro to Psychology professor tell a few stories about the work of Dr. Oliver Sacks. It was the first time I had really thought about the intricacies of how our human brains work–why do some people experience “glitches” that cause them to think their wife is a hat?
In the two decades since, I’ve had the opportunity to read and listen to even more stories from Dr. Sacks. I’m a devotee of the NPR show Radiolab, which frequently featured him as a guest.
I was sad on learning earlier this year that Dr. Sacks had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and sad when I heard this morning that he had passed away. He was a compassionate, kind, intelligent, endlessly curious person who wanted to find out what makes humans tick.
I’m glad to have learned as much from him as I have. Thank you, Dr. Sacks.
Some of my favourite articles and interviews:
The Abyss, an article in The New Yorker about Clive Wearing, a musician who had lost his memory…except for his memory of his wife, and his music.
Clive, the corresponding Radiolab piece. Very poignant.
Face Blind (The New Yorker)–Why do some of us have a hard time recognizing faces? Both Dr. Sacks and I have this in varying degrees. As an instructor, it’s pretty stressful for me to get a new class of students every semester, many of whom I can’t tell apart for a few classes. Sometimes I run into someone I’ve only met once or twice and I literally have no idea I’ve met them before. Embarrassing. It was nice to know I wasn’t alone in this neurological quirk.
Strangers in the Mirror—Radiolab interview with Oliver Sacks and artist Chuck Close about their experiences with face blindness (prosopagnosia).
A Man of Letters—New Yorker article about author Howard Engel and the day he woke up suddenly unable to read the Globe & Mail newspaper, because the letters had all turned to unrecognizable characters–one moment like Korean, another like Cyrillic.
An animated video from NPR and Lev Yilman about Howard Engel’s experience with word blindness.
The CBC’s tribute to Oliver Sacks, with a link to his radio interview with Eleanor Wachtel (Writers and Company) about his memoir, Uncle Tungsten.
Dr. Sacks Looks Back with Radiolab.
And his final essay in the New York Times, Sabbath.