Oliver Sacks, Mountaineer

I have my reasons to dislike Wired Magazine — trendy, faux-savvy, shoddy fact-checkers that they are — but they can do a sensible interview. To wit, see this piece on Oliver Sacks, the neurologist who told us about mistaking wives for hats. Sacks tells his interviewer, Steve Silberman, a great deal about his experiences with music.

I intensely dislike any reference to supernaturalism, but I think there can be profound mystical feelings which do not have to call on fictitious agencies like angels and demons and deities. The whole natural world is bathed in wonder and beauty and mystery. The feeling of the holy, the sacred, the wonderful, the mystical, can be divorced from anything theological, and is conveyed very powerfully in music.

While many a scientist has expressed a similar sentiment, Sacks also reveals that the pleasures of the academic lifestyle were not restricted to horticulture, at least not in the 1960s.

One day in 1964, I constructed a sort of pharmacological mountain, and at its peak, I said, “I want to see indigo, now!” As if thrown by a paintbrush, a huge, trembling drop of purest indigo appeared on the wall — the color of heaven. For months after that, I kept looking for that color. It was like the lost chord.

Sacks saw the color again, after hearing Monteverdi’s Vespers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the lapis lazuli snuffboxes which had appeared such a wonderful indigo turned out to be blue and mauve and pink when he looked at them again. “It took a mountain of amphetamine, mescaline, and cannabis to launch me into that space,” he says, “But Monteverdi did it too.”

3 thoughts on “Oliver Sacks, Mountaineer”

  1. I apologize for commenting basically completely off topic, but every time I see anything about “Wired” magazine, I think of this scene from The Simpsons: (summary yanked from snpp.com)

    Lisa sits on the couch reading the magazine “Wired” when Homer comes in and takes it from her, thinking it is the magazine “Weird”.

    Homer: Heh-heh-heh. I love their hilarious send-ups of hit movies.
    Lisa: Dad, it’s not–
    Homer: “Gigabyte”! [laughs] They’ve done it again. Gigabyte. Wait, this
    isn’t “Weird”! [looks at cover] Why, there’s no magazine *called*
    “Weird”, is there?
    Lisa: [takes magazine] This is *”Wired”*. It’s about computers and
    [Homer stares]
    Hey! Look, there’s a cyber-café opening here in Springfield. Will you
    take me, Dad, please? I’ll show you how to order pizza over the
    Homer: The internet? Is that thing still around?
    Bart: [walks in] I know a web site that shows monkeys doing it.
    Lisa: Bart, the internet is more than a global pornography network it’s–
    [Homer, in the car with Bart, honks the horn]
    Homer: Come on, Lisa — monkeys!

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