When I first discovered Oliver Sacks, I thought he had died long ago because the "Hat" book was published in 1985. It turns out, according to his Wikipedia link, he is only 76 right now and a practicing neurologist and psychiatrist at Columbia University. This just goes to show how my mind works: books more than twenty years old = ancient history. My ex-boss Mickey used to call this "discounting the past." If something is not the most current thing on the block, we discount it and keep repeating the same studies or whatever and go for the latest, whether or not it is the best.
Sacks is on the top of his game in this book. Although I have just started reading it, it's hard to put it down. I'm so fascinated by the things I'm learning. One really interesting story is about a man who was a successful orthopedic surgeon and was struck by lightning at the age of 42. He had an out-of-body experience afterwards, and then was slammed back into his body. With some rather minor (for what he experienced, anyway) aftereffects, he returned to normal in a few weeks.
But one other thing happened: he developed an insatiable desire to listen to piano music and started to hear original melodies in his head. In the space of a dozen years or so, he had learned to play the piano and made his debut as a musician, all the while keeping his medical practice going. From the book (p. 12):
He prepared two pieces for his concert: his first love, Chopin's B-flat Minor Scherzo; and his own first composition, which he called Rhapsody, Opus 1. His playing, and his story, electrified everyone at the retreat (many expressed the fantasy that they, too, might be struck by lightning). He played with "great passion, great brio" -- and if not with supernatural genius, at least with creditable skill, an astounding feat for someone with virtually no musical background who had taught himself to play at forty-two.What Sacks does best in this book is compel me to ponder the nature of the brain and the nature of my love (or lack of love) for music. It's a tantalizing thought that maybe our mental processes are subject to major changes because of a shift in perception, caused by a trauma (as in this case) or for some other unknown reason.
The book is full of stories that cause me to speculate as to the nature of my own brain, and what can be changed through meditation and will, and what might be different tomorrow when I wake up, for no apparent reason? (There are lots of these examples, too.) I hope those of you who are interested in following up will read the book and let me know what you think.