Question time with Oliver Sacks


In an article called Patterns, published in the NY Times earlier this month, neurologist and author Oliver Sacks discusses the geometric visual hallucinations which occur during the migraine auras that he has experienced since early childhood.

Sacks explains that the hallucinations occur as a result of waves abnormal electrical activity sweeping across the visual cortex, and that they reflect the cytoarchitectonics of that part of the brain and the complex patterns of activity within it.

He goes on to speculate that, because this cellular activity is universal, it forms the basis of art and architecture: “Do the arabesques in our own minds, built into our own brain organization, provide us with our first intimations of geometry, of formal beauty?”

The fascinating – and beautifully written – article has generated a great deal of discussion, so the author has offered to answer selected questions from readers. You can submit a question to Oliver Sacks here.


  1. #1 melissa
    February 22, 2008

    I’m wondering if this could relate reports of children having visual hallucinations. I don’t believe that asking about history of migraines is standard practice for mental health evaluations.

  2. #2 gerald spezio
    February 25, 2008

    A mandatory intellectual & historical observation;

    If only Immanuel Kant had posited (hallucinated?) “non-Euclidean,” Kluverian “form constants” instead of Euclidean; we could have avoided the sordid history of – a priori things in themselves and horrible pleonasms such as “apodeictical.”

    Bolyai, Lobachevski, and Reimann must have had very different “hallucinations” for their non-Euclidean geometries???

    Newton took his physics from Euclid’s geometry.

    Kant milked Newton for his “philosophy of apriori Euclidean geometry in the human brain.”

    Einstein took his geometry from physics, but even powerful empirical confirmation could put an end to Kant and similar Kantian philosophical blather.

    Joe Campbell milked Kant & every speculative literary device imaginable in order to play the literary genius thereby producing an all encompassing mythology for all mankind and well as making himself into a wealthy celebrity.

    Campbell came up with (hallucinated?) all manner of pretentious nonsense (heroes in the human head?).
    Peeyar-man Bill Moyers milked and delivered Joe’s Kantianism to an gullible public.

    Campbell’s Kantian legacy lives on and nourishes thousands of new agers at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in California.

    Sachs recent claims about universals in artistic design sounds ominously close to Campbell’s “diffusion” and Kantian mental structures explaining world-wide artistic similarities.

    No Oliver, not back to Plato & Kant.

  3. #3 Sandra Marchesin
    March 11, 2008

    Hi Honey,
    Looks interesting and has link to neuroscience in left hand collumn.

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