The Man Behind the Mind, the Mind Behind the Man: Neurologist Oliver Sacks Latest Investigations of the Mind - Including His Own
Oliver Sacks is shy, painfully so. He said of himself he was deficient in the three B’s: belief, belonging, and bonding.
This man, who would rather work with his patients and research into the human neurology, had few real relationships and kept others at a distance- until he published a series of books and was to be the subject of the movie Awakenings, starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro.
This shy man man who avoided close relationships has come to be recognized as one of the most empathetic teller of other people’s stories, of their suffering and their triumphs.
According to his Wiki Bio Oliver Sacks never married or had children. He says he had not had any kind of relationship ‘in many years’, referring to his shyness as a ‘disease’.
It’s easy to get the wrong impression about Dr. Oliver Sacks. It certainly is if all you do is look at the author photos on the succession of brainy best-selling neurology books he’s written since Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat made him famous. Cumulatively, they give the impression of a warm, fuzzy, virtually cherubic fellow at home in comfy-couched consultation rooms. A kind of fusion of Freud and Yoda. And indeed that’s how he looked when I spoke with him recently, in his comfy-couched consultation room.
But Oliver Sacks is one of the great modern adventurers, a daring explorer of a different sort of unmapped territory than braved by Columbus or Lewis and Clark. He has gone to the limits of the physical globe, almost losing his life as darkness fell on a frozen Arctic mountainside. He’s sailed fragile craft to the remotest Pacific isles and trekked through the jungles of Oaxaca. He even lived through San Francisco in the 1960s.
But to me, the most fearless and adventuresome aspect of his long life (he’s nearing 80) has been his courageous expeditions into the darkest interiors of the human skull—his willingness to risk losing his mind to find out more about what goes on inside ours.
I have a feeling this word has not yet been applied to him, but Oliver Sacks is a genuine badass, and a reading of his new book, Hallucinations, cements that impression. He wades in and contends with the weightiest questions about the brain, its functions and its extremely scary anomalies. He is, in his search for what can be learned about the “normal” by taking it to the extreme, turning the volume up to 11, as much Dr. Hunter Thompson as Dr. Sigmund Freud: a gonzo neurologist.
You get a sense of this Dr. Sacks when you look around the anteroom to his office and see a photo of the young doctor lifting a 600-pound barbell at a weight-lifting competition. Six hundred pounds! It’s more consonant with the Other Side of Dr. Sacks, the motorcyclist who self-administered serious doses of psychedelic drugs to investigate the mind.
And though his public demeanor reflects a very proper British neurologist, he’s not afraid to venture into some wild uncharted territory.