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Oliver Wolf Sacks, CBE (born 9 July 1933) is a British-American neurologist, writer, and amateur chemist who is Professor of Neurology at New York University School of Medicine. Between 2007 and 2012, he was professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University, where he also held the position of "Columbia Artist". Before that, he spent many years on the clinical faculty of Yeshiva University's Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He also holds the position of visiting professor at the United Kingdom's University of Warwick.
Sacks is the author of numerous best-selling books, including several collections of case studies of people with neurological disorders and hallucinations.
In this highlights of his few interviews he describes visual hallucinations, auditory hallucinations, olfactory hallucinations and hallucinations produced by illness, fevers, sledeprivation, drugs, grief, trauma and exhaustioNS
...On a memorable hallucination while taking LSD
"I had been reading about the color indigo, how it had been introduced into the spectrum by [Isaac] Newton rather late, and it seemed no two people quite agreed as to what indigo was, and I thought I would like to have an experience of indigo. And I built up a sort of pharmacological launchpad with amphetamines and LSD, and a little cannabis on top of that, and when I was really stoned I said, 'I want to see indigo now.' And as if thrown by a paintbrush, a huge pear-shaped blob of the purest indigo appeared on the wall.
"Again it had this luminous, numinous quality; I leaped toward it in a sort of ecstasy. I thought, 'This is the color of heaven.' ... I thought maybe this is not a color which actually exists on the Earth, or maybe it used to exist or no longer exists. All this went through my mind in 4 or 5 seconds, and then the blob disappeared, giving me a strong sense of loss and heartbrokenness, and I was haunted a little bit when I came down, wondering whether indigo did exist in the real world.
"I would turn over little stones. I once went to a museum to look at azurite, a copper mineral which is maybe the nearest [to] indigo, but that was disappointing. 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."
...On hallucinations that accompany bereavement
"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 super active 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."
....On the hallucinations accompanying his migraines
“ I usually get the zigzag, but I may also see lattice patterns, like tessellations; sometimes these lattice patterns seem to cover people's faces or a piece of paper I'm writing on. I mostly get complex geometrical patterns
"I usually get the zigzag, but I may also see lattice patterns, like tessellations; sometimes these lattice patterns seem to cover people's faces or a piece of paper I'm writing on. I mostly get complex geometrical patterns; I've never actually seen ... images with a migraine, although on at least on two occasions, I've had a smell — in particular a smell of hot buttered toast — with a strong sense that I was about 3 years old, being put in a high chair, and about to be given hot buttered toast. A sort of olfactory hallucination often goes along with recollection in that sort of way.
"The first time I got that, I was in hospital and I went searching for the toast. The second time, I was driving on the Bronx River Parkway, where there was obviously no toast to be had."
....How visual migraines may have inspired ancient patterned art
"There are all sorts of complex geometrical patterns, very symmetrical, some of them looking like the finest doily. ... Patterns like this tend to appear in migraine, but they may also appear with fever. They also appear with various drugs. They may also be seen as one is falling asleep, and one can't help comparing them with various forms of ornamental art and cave art, and wondering whether individuals or cultures have been inspired by some of these patterns which are built into the nervous system."