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Oliver Sacks: The Mind's Eye

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Date and time
Thursday, October 28, 2010

Oliver Sacks, neurologist and popularizer of the science of the mind, discusses his newest work, *The Mind's Eye*, in conversation with writer and editor Cullen Murphy. In *The Mind's Eye*, Oliver Sacks tells the stories of people who are able to navigate the world and communicate with others despite losing what many of us consider indispensable senses and abilities: the power of speech, the capacity to recognize faces, the sense of three-dimensional space, the ability to read, the sense of sight. For all of these people, the challenge is to adapt to a radically new way of being in the world. Sacks explores some very strange paradoxes--people who can see perfectly well but cannot recognize their own children, and blind people who become hyper--visual or who navigate by "tongue vision." He also considers more fundamental questions: How do we see? How do we think? How important is internal imagery--or vision, for that matter? Why is it that, although writing is only five thousand years old, humans have a universal, seemingly innate, potential for reading?

Oliver Sacks was born in 1933 in London, England into a family of physicians and scientists. He earned his medical degree at Oxford University, and did residencies and fellowship work at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco and at UCLA. Since 1965, he has lived in New York, where he is a practicing neurologist. In July of 2007, he was appointed Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, and he was also designated the university's first Columbia University Artist. In 1966 Dr. Sacks began working as a consulting neurologist for Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx, a chronic care hospital where he encountered an extraordinary group of patients, many of whom had spent decades in strange, frozen states, like human statues, unable to initiate movement. He recognized these patients as survivors of the great pandemic of sleepy sickness that had swept the world from 1916 to 1927, and treated them with a then-experimental drug, L-dopa, which enabled them to come back to life. Sacks is perhaps best known for his collections of case histories from the far borderlands of neurological experience, *The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat* and *An Anthropologist on Mars*, in which he describes patients struggling to live with conditions ranging from Tourette's syndrome to autism, parkinsonism, musical hallucination, epilepsy, phantom limb syndrome, schizophrenia, retardation, and Alzheimer's disease.
Cullen Murphy was the managing editor of *The Atlantic Monthly* from 1985 to 2002 and the magazine's de facto editor-in-chief from 2002 to 2005. He is the author of *The Word According to Eve: Women and the Bible in Ancient Times and Our Own* and *Are We Rome?* He is currently the editor-at-large of *Vanity Fair*.