Discovering The Mind Through Music


The late neurologist Oliver Sacks had a long,celebrated career that was incredibly fascinating. Music has played a large part in his professional life (he also played the piano, although he referred to himself as one of the less musical members of a musical family). It was his understanding and his approach to music that defined his work in exploring the complexities of the human brain, which shed light on neurological disorders with compassion and respect. 

In one of his books, Musicophilia, he wrote about music's transformative, healing power.He explained that the brain is an elaborate network of musical points, where each region analyzes different components of music. Because there is no singular location, no similar musical center, each person processes music differently. Some of the essays in the book also included cases of his patients where music affected them physiologically.

Oliver Sacks personal life was profoundly shaped by music. In his 1984 memoir, A Leg to Stand On, he recounted an extraordinary experience after he got injured on a Norwegian mountain.

There came to my aid now melody, rhythm and music. Before crossing the stream, I had muscled myself along moving by main force, with my very strong arms. Now, so to speak, I was musicked along. I did not contrive this. It happened to me. I fell into a rhythm 

He continued, 

It was only after chanting the song in a resonant and resounding bass for some time that I suddenly realized that I had forgotten the bull. Or, more accurately, I had forgotten my fear partly seeing that it was no longer appropriate, partly that it had been absurd in the first place. I had no room now for this fear, or for any other fear, because I was filled to the brim with music. And even when it was not literally (audibly) music, there was the music of my muscle-orchestra playing the silent music of the body, in Harvey's lovely phrase. With this playing, the musicality of my motion, I myself became the music You are the music, while the music lasts. A creature of muscle,motion and music, all inseparable and in unison with each other except for that unstrung part of me, that poor broken instrument which could not join in and lay motionless and mute without tone or tune. 

He lived his life guided by music, and he passed it on to the world through his patients and the many lives he touched. In fact, shortly before his death in 2015, he shared a video of a flash mob to Beethoven's 9th symphony, and declared in his last tweet, A beautiful way to perform one of the world's great musical treasures. So was his spirit.

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