Oliver Sacks is a professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center. His most pioneering work, the one that landed him on the map, started in 1966, involving patients who suffered from a strange condition that rendered a person either totally immobile or stuck in behavioral loops. He recognized the symptoms as remnants and offshoots of a 1920′s sleeping sickness, encephalitis lethargica, and treated the patients with L-dopa, an experimental drug at the time, bringing them back to life, so to speak.
Sacks later wrote about his experience with these patients and their treatment in a book titled Awakenings.
This book became the basis for a movie of the same name, starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.
Dr. Sacks has written many best-selling books on a variety of topics, ranging from autism, parkinsonism, epilepsy, phantom limb disorder, color-blindness, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease. He has also done work on the effect music has on consciousness and the human body.
In one telling video, Henry, an unresponsive and withdrawn clinic resident, is energized and animated by the sound of old and familiar music.
A Legacy Of Discovery And Contribution
Dr. Sacks has received accolades for both his work and his writings, ranging from prestigious awards to honorary academic positions.
He has also invited the wrath of many critics, who consider his work not sensational but sensationalist. They believe it’s specifically geared to promote his writings. Some claim that he exploits his patients for the sole purpose of making a literary career for himself.
The topic is not straightforward. Turning medical cases over to the public domain is never without hitches. Scrutiny is high (as it should be?) and controversy runs high, as motives are questioned and second-guessed.
Not without reason. The video above illustrates how even a feelgood clip may come into question. Inspiring as the clip is, note how it mentions the iPod used to deliver the music, leaving the audience wondering whether this is nothing other than a clever marketing trick on Apple’s behalf.
Or are we reading too much into it? Maybe the producer is an Apple buff, end of story.
If something works, let us embrace it
Whatever the case, it’s weird.
Yes, it’s a cynical way to view this video, but not without good reason. Advertising and marketing have become so sophisticated, and success so contested, that one can’t take anything for granted.
But let’s not get carried away, or lose focus from what matters. Let the smoke not deter us from the facts. If something works, let us embrace it without wasting time analyzing the ways it was delivered, who was behind it, what their agenda was etc. Some things are better left alone, embraced for what they are and not for what may/might/could lie behind them.
Oliver Sacks is one such example. He’s a physician and professor with astounding credentials. He has done wonderful things in medicine, about which he has written in books that are easy to read i.e. written for the layperson. He has expanded our scope and narrowed the distance between the medical field and the public. One look at Henry’s transformation – iPod plug or not – and a look at the patients Sacks has helped over the years and the people he has illuminated through his books and the spirit he has summoned in everyone involved with his work – it’s enough to remind us that Sacks’ actions, and all such actions, make a difference.