For a wonderful example of Oliver Sacks’ “romantic scientific method” at work – a method he borrowed, at least in part, from the great Russian neurologist A.R. Luria – listen to this NPR piece, by Robert Krulwich.
It’s a beautiful story about the power of stories to help us make sense of our ourselves. Here’s how I summarized this romantic method in my recent profile of Sacks:
In his writings, he [Sacks] uses music as a metaphor for his unusual approach to medicine. He cites a Novalis aphorism–”Every disease is a musical problem; every cure is a musical solution”–in several books, usually when discussing the therapeutic powers of music. But it’s clear that Sacks also believes in a deeper, less literal connection between medicine and music, which is why Musicophilia reads like a retrospective. Music encapsulates two of the most essential aspects of his work: listening and feeling. The art form is the model for his method. As a doctor, Sacks is exquisitely attentive, not just to the symptoms, but also to the person. He treats each patient like a piece of music, a complex creation that must be felt to be understood. Sacks listens intensely so that he can feel what it’s like, so that he can develop an “intuitive sympathy” with the individual. It is this basic connection, a connection that defies explanation, that allows Sacks to heal his patients, letting them recover what has been lost: their sense of self.