“Were It Not For His Own Drug-Induced Hallucinations, Oliver Sacks Might Not Have Taken Patients Seriously”


Alternet reflects on the predicates of Oliver Sacks’ renowned sympathy for his patients’ altered realities.

Article → Note from Kermit Cole, “In the News” editor:
This article reminded me of two key events in my history: the college-era altered states that introduced me, inadvertently, to the ever-present clarity of mind that came with them (an awareness that has served me throughout all experiences I’ve shared with others managing their way through altered states), and the late-life reflections shared with me by a world-renowned researcher in the area of hallucinations and delusions. Following the experience, following his retirement and heart surgery, of hallucinations and delusions associated with an anesthetic, he said to me in his professor-emeritus office at Harvard, “I wish I’d experienced it a long time ago, or never, because now I have to rethink everything.”


  1. I haven’t read Hallucinations, nor know much of Oliver Sachs, except by reading Musicophilia. I have a simple standard for judging whether doctors like Oliver Sachs really get it. It’s the schizopositive test. How “schizopositive” is Oliver Sachs? Does he dismiss the rich experiences of schizophrenia as a special case, not worthy of his research because these people are truly insane? I think he does, but I would love to be corrected on this. Musicophilia, has, to my recollection, one footnote that mentions schizophrenia in passing, in the spirit of “this person heard music but he wasn’t schizophrenic, so what he heard is truly fascinating and worthy of research.” I don’t have the book in front of me, so I’m simply relaying my impressions.

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  2. Dr. Sacks’s empathy is obvious from his writings, which are well-worth reading. He is an excellent writer.

    He is very skeptical of psychiatric medications because, as I recall, he believes they interfere with the person’s experience of his or her own life, and with creativity.

    I can’t recall anything he’s written specifically about schizophrenia. As a neurologist, he is a student of neurological diversity — his books very insightfully describe the inner lives of people with various kinds of true neurological damage. One of his themes is how they cope, recounted with great compassion and warmth.

    The world could use a lot more people like him.

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  3. I heard the man speak recently and he seems to take a very hands off ”I’m not going there” attitude towards schizophrenia. I realize this is probably because its ” beyond the scope” of his book but I feel its a funny attitude to take on a subject that I would think would be of interest to him given the topic of his book and all. Rossa, I’m going to have to agree annd say that Sacks is dismissive of schizophrenic-type experiences and I suspect its because they are too weird for his framework and not palatable enough for the best sellers list.

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