Oliver Sacks: Visually Interesting

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Oliver Sacks, physician, professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and author of, most recently, The Mind's Eye, has more stories about the brain and its mysterious malfunctions, this time all to do with vision.


Dr. Oliver Sacks

Comments [17]


Dr. Sachs (next visit): Have you ever read the writing of Jacques Lusseyran, a French Resistance hero who was blinded as a child but saw peoples characters reliably (main screener for a large resistance group) - pretty amazing story.

Also as a young artist I had tests done measuring my various aptitudes against those of the US work force - results showed weaker form perception and superlatively strong spatial perception - I think one could see this in my visual compositions.

Oct. 21 2011 06:11 PM

Pia from Charlottesvile VA: Check out Donna Eden and David Feinstein -

I think you will find answers and practitioner connections here. David was just invited to the White House to explain their work on some kinds of impossible cases - based on Einstein's statement that "Energy is All There Is" It's amazing what you can get down without medicial opinion, though it's always good to keep them measuring your vitals etc.

Oct. 21 2011 06:04 PM

Veronica Wittrup, have you discussed your smell hallucinations with a doctor? It might be a good idea to eliminate the possibility of something wrong. I don't mean to alarm you, but the father of a friend of mine discovered his brain tumor because he was having strong smell hallucinations. Again--I don't necessarily think you have a brain tumor! But it's never a bad idea to discuss things with your doctor.

Oct. 20 2011 02:04 PM
ileen from nyc

@Pia - is your face paralyzed or immobile? If your face is touched, can you feel it? I had Bell's Palsy as a teen in the 80s that made the left side of my face immobile, but when I touched it, I could feel it. The mobility slowly returned over about 9 months, probably about 96% to normal, although when I'm very tired now, I still see slight after effects. My sister had the same thing in the 90s, and when treated with steroids, it went away in weeks. It amazed me in just ten years how different the treatment was.

Oct. 20 2011 01:35 PM
Chris from Brooklyn, NY

I have since adolescence had what I guess would have to be called hallucinations although that isn't how I thought of them at first. I have what I used to think were a kind of panic attack but now suspect are a kind of migraine which is accompanied by a strange inability to judge my own size, or the size and distance of objects around me. I also experience a confusion of sounds which will suddenly seem either very loud or very quiet. I will have the sensation of being extremely large or small and the room and furniture will seem to move closer and further away. The experience doesn't come with pain, although I will experience the sensitivity to light and a kind of emotional exhaustion just before and afterwards that other people have told me accompanies their migraines. I've never met anyone else who has this. Maybe you know something about it.

Oct. 20 2011 12:20 PM
Veronica Wittrup

I suffer, or rather, experience hallucinations of smell. I often find myself smelling something very strongly that just isn't there- it usually catches me off guard and I only really know if the smell isn't there if I don't ask about it.

Oct. 20 2011 11:44 AM
Barbara Gold from Manhattan

Many people have told me that they have been "visited" by a recently deceased loved one.

Oct. 20 2011 11:42 AM
lisa from NYC

Dear Dr. Sacks,
I have been interested in your work for years esp as it relates parkinson's disease. As well you did surgery on a friend of mine years ago at BI North.

Recently my mother passed away from advanced parkinson's and prior to her passing she rapidly lost her vision and then a few months before passing-- began serious hallucinations. Hallucinations that we ongoing she would drift in and out but seemed to pick up where she left off as they progressed.
She passed away suddenly a few months ago but now after the fact I feel that these hallucinations played a key roll in her death.
Can you give me your opinion about this and this disease and this theory.
Thank you

Oct. 20 2011 11:42 AM
Laura from Northern NJ

Hello Dr and thank u for your book. I have had hallucinations - I see (or saw) dead people. Following my husbands death in the WTC and following my second head injury, I saw people who I knew were not there - not psychotic- ranging from 1800 C Polish ancestors through my father. I read a brief that this may be or have been epilepsy. Nighttime non material visions. It ceased 6 months after my injury but caused me to change my religious beliefs for a couple of years. Is this something that could recur or result in later life issues?

Oct. 20 2011 11:40 AM
oscar from ny

The other dat I hallucinated that Allah iehova yahwei and Jesus and friends appointed me the iman Al mighty the best human on earth and told me to gather all the righteius ppl of earth and make them our

Oct. 20 2011 11:39 AM
Mo from ny ny

What’s your opinion on the book “Heaven is for real” by Todd Burpo?

Oct. 20 2011 11:38 AM
Amanda from NYC

I have narcolepsy and frequently have hypnogogic hallucinations when waking up. Frequently the hallucinations involve people or animals I know in the room where I have been sleeping, and it can be confusing as to whether the event really happened for the first few minutes after I am awake.

I wonder if any research has been performed on the hallucinations in narcolepsy.

Oct. 20 2011 11:37 AM
Mike from Madison NJ

How are hallucinations related to dreams?
How are they similar and different, other than one is while awake and the other is while dreaming.

Oct. 20 2011 11:37 AM
Mike from Madison NJ

How are hallucinations related to dreams?
How are they similar and different, other than one is while awake and the other is while dreaming.

Oct. 20 2011 11:36 AM
amanda from manhattan


My father in law has Parkinsons with Loewys Body Disease. I read about the hallucinations associated with these conditions. I asked my father in law if he had experienced this without giving any information about what i had read. He described exactly what i had read which was very specific...hallucinations often involving seeing small animals. How can this be so specific?

Oct. 20 2011 11:36 AM
Rose from atlanta

Dr. Sacks:
You are quite atypical in your presentation of "disease", and particularly renowned for seeing the humanity in your patients. How much do you believe your own prosopagnosia , a relatively uncommon difference, has to do with this?

Also, your new book, from the reviews I read, speaks to the plasticity of the mind, the ability to adapt. I first became familiar with you via your chapters on Temple Grandin. My own son was given a label of autism in school, albeit mild. Might we not be better off to study the "autistic " brains attempts to bring to balance a sort of adaption to the world, rather than imposing a neurotypicalality via ABA or whatever, in order to help our children be who they were meant to be?

Oct. 20 2011 11:31 AM
Pia from Charlottesville, VA

I have read many of Dr. Sacks books and am very interested in his work but never thought I would have a reason to ask him a question about my own neurological issue. On August 1st I woke up with the right side of my face paralyzed 3 weeks later the left side became paralyzed. After many doctor visits to the University of Virginia Medical Center (I live in Charlottesville, VA) with a team of neurologists and infectious disease specialists I was told that my face is stuck this way - it doesn't move at all, I cannot close my eyes, smile, frown, wrinkle my nose or forehead. I understand that bilateral 7th cranial nerve palsy is very rare and wondered if Dr. Sacks has had any experience with this and advice.

Oct. 20 2011 11:24 AM

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