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Letters after The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat about musical hallucinations


'The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat': A strange assemblage of pieces
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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This heterogeneous, this strange assemblage of pieces did seem to come together in a sort of way, and they were arranged in sections which seemed to unify certain things. I spoke of deficits, of excesses, which Hughlings Jackson, the great neurologist in the 19th century would have called negative symptoms and positive symptoms. I was always more turned on by the positive symptoms, I prefer mania to depression, I... I prefer Tourette’s to Parkinsonism, although I will deal with them all.

Probably the... the depressive ones are in some sense deeper and may allow more introspection, and one’s got to have both, probably.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Tourette’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, John Hughlings Jackson

Duration: 1 minute, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012