This afternoon I heard the news that the great neurologist Dr Oliver Sacks, who wrote books such as Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat and was well known for exploring the brain’s quirks, has passed away at the age of 82. Dr Sacks taught us so much about the human brain and humanity, even about the art of death.
As part of GCSE in English Language, we had to do a presentation followed by a Q&A. Many of my peers chose to do their presentations on things like their favourite shows, films, or the like. I chose to do my presentation on Dr Sacks’s findings about encephalitis lethargica, which he documented in his book Awakenings. The case studies in this book were then combined when Awakenings was made into a film, starring Robin Williams; the film touched and moved millions. I remember people asking me why I’d chosen to talk about this topic for such an important part of my GCSE; all I could say was that it interested me and that Dr Sacks’s work is so important. I stand by what I said.
Among his scientific and psychological discoveries, Dr Sacks also discovered some wonderful things about humanity, which can be represented in this quote from the film adaptation of Awakenings-
What we do know is that, as the chemical window closed, another awakening took place; that the human spirit is more powerful than any drug – and THAT is what needs to be nourished: with work, play, friendship, family. THESE are the things that matter. This is what we’d forgotten – the simplest things.
Most recently he taught us about the art of death-
In short, the man was a genius. His was a life well-lived.