Oliver Sacks: 1933 – 2015

Oliver Sacks: A Neurologist At The ‘Intersection Of Fact And Fable’
August 31, 2015

Sacks’ 1973 book Awakenings, which was adapted into a film starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro, chronicled the neurologist’s work treating patients who had spent decades in a catatonic state caused by encephalitic lethargica. Some of the patients emerged from their catatonia after Sacks administered the drug L-dopa.

On hallucinations that accompany bereavement

Typically, the bereavement hallucinations which are common – something like 40 or 50 percent of bereaved people get them occasionally – often felt as very comforting and they may help one through the mourning process. And then when one has mourned fully, they disappear.

With any hallucinations, if you can do functional brain imagery while they’re going on, you will find that the parts of the brain usually involved in seeing or hearing — in perception — have become superactive by themselves. And this is an autonomous activity; this does not happen with imagination. But hallucination, in a way, simulates perception, and the perceptual parts of the brain become active. … There’s obviously a very, very strong passionate feeling of love and loss with bereavement hallucinations, and I think intense emotion of any sort can produce a hallucination. …


Sight over sound in the judgment of music performance.

Sight over sound in the judgment of music performance.
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Aug 19. [Epub ahead of print]



Tsay CJ.
Department of Management Science and Innovation, Faculty of Engineering Science, University College London

Social judgments are made on the basis of both visual and auditory information, with consequential implications for our decisions.
To examine the impact of visual information on expert judgment and its predictive validity for performance outcomes, this set of seven experiments in the domain of music offers a conservative test of the relative influence of vision versus audition.
People consistently report that sound is the most important source of information in evaluating performance in music.
However, the findings demonstrate that people actually depend primarily on visual information when making judgments about music performance.
People reliably select the actual winners of live music competitions based on silent video recordings, but neither musical novices nor professional musicians were able to identify the winners based on sound recordings or recordings with both video and sound.

The results highlight our natural, automatic, and nonconscious dependence on visual cues.
The dominance of visual information emerges to the degree that it is overweighted relative to auditory information, even when sound is consciously valued as the core domain content.


  • cognition,
  • communication,
  • decision making,
  • evaluation,
  • social perception




Valerie June On Learning To Love ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ Voices

Valerie June On Learning To Love ‘Perfectly Imperfect’ Voices
August 09, 2013

one day I was boarding a plane to head back to Memphis, and I heard this beautiful voice singing to me, and it just started singing, ‘Running on Tennessee time …’ And I was just like, ‘Man. That really is what I’m on.’ Because New York City’s moving so fast, and I’m just kind of taking my time with everything. I’m still on Southern time — or, they call it, colored people’s time or CP time or Delta time. Whatever you wanna call it, it’s a little bit slower than New York time.”

You say you hear the music in your head. Is it your own voice? How does it work?
“It’s usually many different voices. That’s always a hard subject to talk about, because it kind of sounds crazy to say, ‘Sometimes I hear an older black male voice. Sometimes I hear a younger woman’s voice. Sometimes I hear a child’s voice.’ … I try to write down every song that comes to me, even though I know that every song that comes to me isn’t a song that I need to sing. Some of them are just songs that you write to get to the next song that is yours to sing because you relate to it.”

Radio6NL, 2013


Tales of Music and the Brain
Oliver Sacks
Vintage Books, a division of Random House. Inc.
New York, 2008

p. 16
His was a lucky strike, and the music, however it had come, was a blessing, a grace–not to be questioned.



Hearing Things: When Sounds Come Unbidden

Hearing Things: When Sounds Come Unbidden 
January 29, 2008

She is a patient of the well-known author and neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks.
Her story appears in his new book Musicophilia.

Musical hallucinations appear in a small percent of people who are very deaf. People in sensory deprivation chambers find themselves hearing mysterious sounds within an hour or so. It can happen to sailors who spend time alone at sea, to people on empty stretches of desert, to people who are extravagantly bored or unstimulated by their environments.

the poet W.H. Auden: “random, my bottom!”
“I mean, by the nature of things, there cannot be anything random in the mind. You know, there must be determinance,” Sacks says.

Oliver Sacks, Exploring How Hallucinations Happen

Oliver Sacks, Exploring How Hallucinations Happen (46 min)
November 06, 2012

I did in fact have that experience again, but when I had it the second time, it was not with a drug, it was with music, and I think music can take one to the heights in a way comparable with drugs.

Every culture has found chemical means of transcendence; e.g. ayahuasca

11:00 indigo was my favorite hallucination

a sleeping medication called chloral hydrate … I want to say goodbye. I’ve gone mad. … delirium tremens, not induced by alcohol withdrawal but by chloral withdrawal.

28 Lilliputian hallucination … elfs

31 the bereavement hallucinations – which are common; something like 40 or 50 percent of bereaved people get them occasionally – are often felt as very comfortable, comforting, and they may help them through the mourning process, and when one has mourned fully, they disappear.

32:30 intense emotion of any sort can produce an hallucination.

Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Exclusive First Read: ‘Hallucinations,’ By Oliver Sacks  (41 min)
October 24, 2012


Oliver Sacks: Hallucinations (35 min)
Talk of the Nation
November 09, 2012

A Community of One: Social Cognition and Auditory Verbal Hallucinations
Vaughan Bell
PLoS Biol, 2013, 11(12): e1001723. (December 03)