Oliver Sacks’ Tales of Musical Hallucinations


In this article for Scientific American, I present my personal interview with renowned neuroscientist and author Oliver Sacks. Dr. Sacks’ latest book, Hallucinations, deals with his patients’ strange experiences with all sorts of visual and auditory phenomena – but he’s also here to discuss a recent paper in which he focuses on hallucinations of the musical kind.

One of Sacks’ patients, for example, found that the embroidered border of his bathmat tended to transform into elaborate staves and clefs of music. He noticed a similar transformation in the text of his newspaper as he tried to read it, so one day he set his newspaper on his music stand and tried to play what he saw. The only problem, Sacks says, is that “the notation turned into different music every few seconds, and it kept altering.” The patient, who also happens to be a professor of Sanskrit, discovered another odd twist when he studied his hallucinated notation more closely: The musical notes kept taking the shapes of letters in Sanskrit’s traditional Devanagari alphabet.

Read the rest of my article at Scientific American.

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