I was recently reading Oliver Sacks’ book on Hallucinations when I got to p90 and there was a Chapter entitled Altered States. I was suddenly gripped by an off-the-wall account of the author’s experiences with substances. By way of contrast it reminded me of an article by journalist and commentator Charlie Brooker. In an effort to make some ‘clever’ point about how newspapers are the real drug we should be scared of Brooker gave a limp account of his past use of substances. He dismissed all of his past substance use and says that he is ‘sickeningly lily-livered, by choice rather than necessity’. He says that he would ‘sooner saw of [his] own feet of than touch anything harder than a double espresso’. I think it’s the reason that Sack’s account was more interesting to me than Brooker’s account is twofold – apart from the obvious that it wasn’t trying to make some convoluted point about newspapers.
- The idea that clever people take drugs too and they can provide adventurous accounts that showcase their erudition
I like sacks’ account because it is not some sort of cliched ‘not even once’ meth account of drug taking. While there are many instances of lives being ruined by drug use and even Sacks seems to have been derailed a bit by it is refreshing to see someone writing about experiences in a way that showcases both their learning and the operation of the human mind. When Sacks decided to take Morphine he didn’t just take morphine. He had been hallucinating the battle of Agincourt, in vivid detail, on his arm for close to twelve hours straight. When Sacks decided to take 20 anti-parkinsonian pills (containing artane- a synthetic drug allied to belladonna) he holds a conversation with spider, in his kitchen, mostly on technical matters of analytic philosophy. The spider asked Sacks whether he felt that the Bertrand Russell had exploded Frege’s paradox? (2) The notion & (partial) fantasy that people can take substances and it will enhance their brilliance When Sacks was looking for inspiration when writing about migraines he downed a sugared draft of amphetamine and old book On Megrim, Sick-Headache, and some Allied Disorders: A contribution to the Pathology of Nerve-storms suddenly captured Sacks’ imagination in a whole new way. Under the influence of the amphetamines Sacks plower through the 500 page book and found himself almost becoming the author and seeing the patients he described. He says that the book gave him what he had been hungering for during the months when he had actually been seeing patients with migraine and been frustrated by thin impoverished articles on the subject. The next day when he was coming down, before returning the book to the library, he photocopied the whole thing and that was the genesis of his book on migraines. Sources http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/mar/22/charlie-brooker-newspapers-dangerous-drug Hallucinations, Oliver Sacks