YOU Should Think About This! From An Anthropologist on Mars and Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

Posted on June 10, 2009


I decided I’m going to vary the titles of the 7 Quotes or Less stuff I post cause I kinda hate looking at it and readers have the cue to skip what I think is valuable information. It’s information that has the chance to move your viewpoints and understanding of the human condition.

For those of you who need structure, I’m still going to tag those posts under the In 7 Quotes or Less.

The Books: An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales and Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks is a neurologist and as far as I can tell is one of the first people to use the term “neuroanthropology”. It says in his jacket sleeve! “Sacks has taken off his white coat and deserted the hospital, by and large, to join his subjects in their own environments. He feels, he says, in part like a neuroanthropologist…” Neuroanthropology, hmm…I’ve heard of that before.

The book consists of 7 page-turning case histories.

  • An artist who became colorblind
  • a surgeon with Tourette’s
  • a man with anterograde amnesia who still thinks he’s in the 1960s
  • an artist who had an obssession and vivid memory for painting his home town
  • the autistic savant Steven Wiltshire
  • a man who had been blinded for 50 years and was given new eyes
  • an autistic professor and humane killing activist Temple Grandin, whose book Animals in Translation was something I picked up but haven’t gotten to yet.

All these cases being quite unique, and make you wonder about the possibilities and limits of the human condition.

1. This quote here makes me think about how we organize our lives.

We with a full complement of senses, live in space and time; the blind live in a world of time alone. For the blind build their worlds from sequences of impressions (tacticle, auditory, olfactory) and are not capable, as sighted people are, of a simultaneous visual perception, the making of an instantaneous visual scene (124).

Have been babbling on about the Country of the Blind…

If I was blind, I can’t help but fantasize that I’d have more rhythm and be better with storytelling and oral speech. Maybe I’d be better with the motion in the ocean.

O-Sacks makes the observation in Musicophilia that a lot of blindness is almost kind of honorary in the world of gospel, blue, and jazz (161). See Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Blind Lemon Jefferson…

2. In the context of describing the talents of autistic super-artist Steven Wiltshire, advice about drawing and perhaps how Steven perceives drawing versus how we might perceive it.

Whenever you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have in front of you — a tree, a house, a field, or whatever….Merely think, here is a little squeeze of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow, and paint it just as it looks to you, the exact color and shape, until it gives your own naive impression of the scene before you. – Claude Monet (206)

Reminds me of the advice from Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind. Basically, when drawing, look at the relations between whatever it is you see, otherwise, you’re simply re-creating symbols. Of course I doubt Monet desparately needed Daniel Pink’s advice though.

BTW, this is Steven Wiltshire.

Steven Wiltshire is still apparently handicapped. But if went by that criteria, were kind of handicapped in drawing stuff in detail like he is.

Sacks makes a good quote in Musicophilia from a father of a Williams Syndrome sufferer, the inverse of autism, (in which carriers are highly social, but have no ability to relate to objects) about the plight of those whom we label “mentally handicapped”.

We know she is ‘retarded’, but in comparison to her and others with Williams syndrome are not most of us ‘retarded’ when it comes to learning and retaining complex music? (326)