Neurologist Oliver Sacks's Acid Test: Empathy

Via Mother Board at Vice:

There’s a reason psychonauts and other curious trip-seekers often experience such intensely profound, if not chemically-risky pleasures while rolling hard on hallucinogenic drugs. Suddenly you and the most beautiful people in the galaxy, who in turn seem to be the only people who matter in that precise moment, are riding along on the same tip, the same wavelength. Feelings are mutually understood, often without anyone even having to resort to speech. But so, too, in the clinical world: Sometimes all it takes is a little empathy.

To run alongside this week’s New Yorker piece on his psychedelic jaunts in the early 60s, esteemed neurologist and author Oliver Sacks released the above video as a quick delve into just how his drug-induced hallucinations have led to heightened levels of doctor-patient rapport. It was as if some of the hallmark warps of tripdom – the stoppage of time, motion “being split up,” among others – that Sacks experienced on LSD had odd ways, years later, of matching up with his patient’s various symptoms. When migraine sufferers, in particular, came to describe similar sensations as Sacks’ drug-addled caravans, “I knew what they were talking about,” he says. “I knew how confounding it was.”

It’s not without reservations. Sacks speaks of his past amphetamine use with a certain I-was-young-and-foolish kind of oof. Still, that the man not only credits his writing career to one specific trip but also describes “in heartwarming detail” the experiences of patients diagnosed with Charles Bonnet syndrome, a condition that has some visually-impaired people overcome with lucid hallucinations (and that’s been given criminally short-shrift in the media) makes any claim to psyche-mutual therapy a fascinating glimpse over the edge of empathy. Touché.

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