sacks on drugs


In the 1960s, Sacks extended his neurophenomenological explorations by taking a variety of recreational drugs; not only amphetamines but also pot and, of course, LSD. The results were occasionally ecstatic, sometimes merely strange and often terrifying. Conversations with a friendly spider – with whom, after an opening exchange of pleasantries, he discussed whether Bertrand Russell had irreversibly damaged Frege’s system of thought with his famous paradox – and studying key moments from the battle of Agincourt enacted on his dressing gown sleeve, were not atypical episodes in the pharmacological dramas unfolding in his head. He fought off panic by carefully transcribing the “craziness” inside himself, writing “for dear life” as “wave after wave of hallucination” rolled over him. These were not quite as crazy as the experience of the student Daniel Breslaw, a subject in a formal study of LSD, who, entering an elevator, passed “a floor every hundred years” and, when back in his room, swam “through the remaining centuries of the day. Every five eons or so a nurse arrives (in the aspect of a cougar, a differential equation, or a clock radio) and takes my blood pressure”. As if this were not enough, Breslaw experienced synaesthesia, or a fusion between the senses, reporting such gems as “the smell of a low B flat, the sound of green”.

more from Raymond Tallis at the TLS here.