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On the Move

On the Move

Author: Oliver Sacks
Rating: 9/10
Last Read: September 2015

Quick Summary:  Autobiography of the late Dr. Oliver Sacks, writing about his career, growth, struggles, and thoughts as he revisited his life. Dr. Sacks is a wise man who has been through much in life - and there is much humanity to be gleaned from the pages of this book.

I recommend Maria Popova's review.

Recommended Reads: Gratitude

My Takeaways

Life was (and probably still is) very difficult for LGBT individuals in ways that I have not considered.

The history of a thing is just as important as the recent developments.  It is hard to continue forward if you are not sure where you came from.

Everybody has their struggles, and even those who have achieved much in life struggle in ways you wouldn't expect - such as being addicted to amphetamines.

As Dr. Sacks recounts a tale of Einstein and humanity, so to does he reveal his humanity by giving a frank and honest recounting of his life.

Aubrey recounted with a smile, he and a colleague from the Israeli consulate visited Einstein in his house in Princeton. Einstein invited them in and courteously asked if they would like coffee, and (thinking that an assistant or housekeeper would make it), Aubrey said yes. But he was “horrified,” as he put it, when Einstein trotted into the kitchen himself. They soon heard the clatter of cups and pots and an occasional piece of crockery falling, as the great man, in his friendly but slightly clumsy way, made the coffee for them. This, more than anything, Aubrey said, showed him the human and endearing side of the world’s greatest genius.

My Highlights

We think of science as discovery, art as invention, but is there a “third world” of mathematics, which is somehow, mysteriously, both? --loc 295

one day, with my heart in my mouth, I told Richard that I was in love with him, not knowing how he would react. He hugged me, gripped my shoulders, and said, “I know. I am not that way, but I appreciate your love and love you too, in my own way.” --loc 343

“Travel now by all means—if you have the time. But travel the right way, the way I travel. I am always reading and thinking of the history and geography of a place. I see its people in terms of these, placed in the social framework of time and space. Take the prairies, for example; you’re wasting your time visiting these unless you know the saga of the homesteaders, the influence of law and religion at different times, the economic problems, the difficulties of communication, and the effects of successive mineral finds. --loc 708

When you were born, people congratulated us on what they considered a wonderful family of four sons! Where are you all now? I feel lonely and bereft. Ghosts inhabit this house. When I go into the various rooms I feel overcome with a sense of loss. --loc 779

These and a host of other memories of your vital personality will always remain with us. When we contemplate this large empty house, we feel a wrench at our heart and a deep sense of loss. We realize nevertheless that you have to make your way in the world, and with you must rest the ultimate decision! --loc 786

I wondered whether systems in the brain concerned with the perception (or projection) of meaning, significance, and intentionality, systems underlying a sense of wonder and mysteriousness, systems for appreciation of the beauty of art and science, had lost their balance in schizophrenia, producing a mental world overcharged with intense emotion and distortions of reality. These systems had lost their middle ground, it seemed, so that any attempt to titrate them, damp them down, could tip the person from a pathologically heightened state to one of great dullness, a sort of mental death. --loc 884

It was at Mount Zion that Libet performed his astounding experiments showing that if subjects were asked to make a fist or perform another voluntary action, their brains would register a “decision” nearly half a second before there was any conscious decision to act. While his subjects felt that they had consciously and of their own free will made a movement, their brains had made a decision, seemingly, long before they did. --loc 1302

I sometimes annoyed the group, I think, by saying that we should also discuss the writings of our nineteenth-century forebears, relating what we were seeing in patients to their observations and thoughts. This was seen by the others as archaism; we were short of time, and we had better things to do than consider such “obsolete” matters. This attitude was reflected, implicitly, in many of the journal articles we read; they made little reference to anything more than five years old. It was as if neurology had no history. --loc 1379

I found this dismaying, for I think in narrative and historical terms. As a chemistry-mad boy, I devoured books on the history of chemistry, the evolution of its ideas, and the lives of my favorite chemists. Chemistry had, for me, a historical and human dimension too. --loc 1383

I was not a book collector myself, and when I bought books or articles, it was to read them, not to show them. --loc 1392

I felt that I was enjoying California too much, was getting addicted to an easy, sleazy life, to say nothing of a deepening drug addiction. I felt I needed to go to a hard, real place, a place where I could devote myself to work and perhaps discover or create a real identity, a voice of my own. --loc 1760

I sometimes wonder why I have spent more than fifty years in New York, when it was the West, and especially the Southwest, which so enthralled me. I now have many ties in New York—to my patients, my students, my friends, and my analyst—but I have never felt it move me the way California did. I suspect my nostalgia may be not only for the place itself but for youth, and a very different time, and being in love, and being able to say, “The future is before me.” --loc 1773

But then the feeling started to fade. We asked ourselves whether the experience we had shared was real, authentic, given the huge aphrodisiac thrust of the amphetamines. I found this question particularly humiliating—could so lofty a transport as falling in love be reduced to something purely physiological? --loc 1908

I asked Shengold if I too was schizophrenic. “No,” he answered. Was I then, I asked, “merely neurotic”? “No,” he answered. I left it there, we left it there, and there it has been left for the last forty-nine years. --loc 1982

I would continue to seek satisfaction in drugs, I felt, unless I had satisfying—and, hopefully, creative—work. It was crucial for me to find something with meaning, and this, for me, was seeing patients. --loc 1987

We maintain the proprieties—he is always “Dr. Shengold,” and I am always “Dr. Sacks”—but it is because the proprieties are there that there can be such freedom of communication. And this is something I also feel with my own patients. They can tell me things, and I can ask things, which would be impermissible in ordinary social intercourse. --loc 2000

Above all, Dr. Shengold has taught me about paying attention, listening to what lies beyond consciousness or words. --loc 2002

For me, this was an example of how unconscious motives may sometimes ally themselves to physiological propensities, of how one cannot abstract an ailment or its treatment from the whole pattern, the context, the economy of someone’s life. --loc 2028

This painful story—painful on both sides—is not an uncommon one: an older man, a father figure, and his youthful son-in-science find their roles reversed when the son starts to outshine the father. This happened with Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday—Davy first giving every encouragement to Faraday, then trying to block his career. I am no Faraday, and Friedman was no Davy, but I think the same deadly dynamic was at work, at a much humbler level. --loc 2143

I did not feel she used the word “Darling” lightly; I felt very loved by her, and I loved her intensely too, and this was a love without ambivalence, without conditionality. Nothing I could say could repel or shock her; there seemed no limit to her powers of sympathy and understanding, the generosity and spaciousness of her heart. --loc 2169

I mentioned to her, a couple of months later, that I had been in a depression. “I know we all suffer them at times,” Len wrote. “Well, don’t have any more. You’ve got so much in your favour—brains, charm, presentability, a sense of the ridiculous, and a whole gaggle of us who believe in you.” --loc 2220

“Your Dr. Friedman,” she wrote in October of 1967, “sounds a most unpleasant piece of work, but don’t let him get under your skin. Keep hold of your faith in yourself.” --loc 2255

As one grows older, the years seem to blur into one another, but 1972 remains sharply etched in my memory. --loc 2500

It seems to me that I discover my thoughts through the act of writing, in the act of writing. Occasionally, a piece comes out perfectly, but more often my writings need extensive pruning and editing, because I may express the same thought in many different ways. --loc 2581

As the decorous stranger discreetly retired, I asked Wystan how he experienced the world, whether he thought of it as being a very small or very large place. “Neither,” he replied. “Neither large nor small. Cozy, cozy.” He added in an undertone, “Like home.” --loc 2708

Informally (I sometimes think) I see and learn and do a great deal, with the extremely varied patients I see in various clinics and Homes, and every seeing-and-learning-and-doing situation is, eo ipso, a teaching situation. I find every patient I see, everywhere, vividly alive, interesting and rewarding; I have never seen a patient who didn’t teach me something new, or stir in me new feelings and new trains of thought; and I think that those who are with me in these situations share in, and contribute to, this sense of adventure. (I regard all neurology, everything, as a sort of adventure!) --loc 3130

“You care, you really care for me!” “Of course,” Eric said. “How could you doubt it?” But it was not easy to believe that anyone cared for me; I sometimes failed to realize, I think, how much my parents cared for me. It is only now, reading the letters they wrote to me when I came to America fifty years ago, that I see how deeply they did care. --loc 3232

And perhaps how deeply many others have cared for me—was the imagined lack of caring by others a projection of something deficient or inhibited in myself? --loc 3235

When Lennie learned of this, she felt that life with intravenous nourishment and a spreading cancer was not worthwhile. She resolved to stop eating, though she would take water. My father insisted she be seen by a psychiatrist, but the psychiatrist said, “She is the sanest person I have ever seen. You must respect her decision.” --loc 3246

Dearest Len, We have all of us been hoping so intensely that this month would see your return to health; but, alas! this was not to be. My heart is torn when I hear of your weakness, your misery—and, now, your longing to die. You, who have always loved life, and been such a source of strength and life to so many, can face death, even choose it, with serenity and courage, mixed, of course, with the grief of all passing. We, I, can much less bear the thought of losing you. You have been as dear to me as anyone in this world. I shall hope against hope that you may weather this misery, and be restored again to the joy of full living. But if this is not to be, I must thank you—thank you, once again, and for the last time, for living—for being you. Love, Oliver --loc 3254

When I visited Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., (it is the only university in the world for deaf and hearing-impaired students) and talked about the “hearing impaired,” one of the deaf students signed, “Why don’t you look at yourself as sign impaired?” --loc 3605

He has one of the most spacious, thoughtful minds I have ever encountered, with a vast base of knowledge of every sort, but it is a base under continual questioning and scrutiny. (I have seen him suddenly stop in mid-sentence and say, “I no longer believe what I was about to say.”) --loc 3697

I think we all live in a swirl of anecdotes…. We (most of us) compose our lives into narratives…. I wonder what the origin is of the urge to “compose” oneself. --loc 3781

I found you so talented, but so deficient in one quality—just the most important quality—call it humanity, or sympathy, or something like that. And, frankly, I despaired of your ever becoming a good writer, because I didn’t see how one could be taught such a quality…. Your deficiency of sympathy made for a limitation of your observation…. What I didn’t know was that the growth of sympathies is something frequently delayed till one’s thirties. --loc 3826

I am however a rather derivative poet. I learn what I can from whom I can. I borrow heavily from my reading, because I take my reading seriously. It is part of my total experience and I base most of my poetry on my experience. --loc 3857

There is a danger, when old friends meet, that they will talk mostly of the past. --loc 3860

At worst, one is in motion; and at best, Reaching no absolute, in which to rest, One is always nearer by not keeping still. --loc 3866

Aubrey recounted with a smile, he and a colleague from the Israeli consulate visited Einstein in his house in Princeton. Einstein invited them in and courteously asked if they would like coffee, and (thinking that an assistant or housekeeper would make it), Aubrey said yes. But he was “horrified,” as he put it, when Einstein trotted into the kitchen himself. They soon heard the clatter of cups and pots and an occasional piece of crockery falling, as the great man, in his friendly but slightly clumsy way, made the coffee for them. This, more than anything, Aubrey said, showed him the human and endearing side of the world’s greatest genius. --loc 4090

And in its broadest sense, neural Darwinism implies that we are destined, whether we wish it or not, to a life of particularity and self-development, to make our own individual paths through life. --loc 5111



The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book