Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The man who mistook his wife for a hat - Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks is not just a physician who writes book: he’s a literary talent who happens to be a brilliant neuroscientist. The set of clinical cases he deals with are told with academic accuracy and a style worth of a talented short story author. Patient after patient, syndrome after syndrome, the reader learns how evolved and sophisticated the human nervous system is, and how catastrophic a minor glitch in one of its numerous components can be. We also learn how (fortunately) rare those glitches are, and how science can help cure the corresponding illnesses.
Some of Sacks’ patients also exhibit special talents in specific fields, which help them compensate for their inabilities. Particularly interesting, in this regard, is the section on the developmentally disabled. These individuals, though sometimes affected by serious lacks of motor and intellectual abilities, are gifted with spectacular numerical, musical, mnemonic, poetic, theatrical or narrative talents. Skills that can be noticed only when looking for potential rather than defects. This is an important lesson that Oliver Sacks learned through his professional work and prolific collaboration with the most prominent experts in the field, such as the great Russian scientist Alexander Luria. I feel it is also the most important lesson we can learn reading his books.

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