When I was living in London in my early 20s, I found a book in the hallway of a university in Hampstead. It was a nonfiction story about a group of people who had become literally frozen with Parkinson's disease from an encephalitis outbreak. The book was written by a doctor who treated the people with a substance called L–dopa. The drug was like magic. It gave the formerly paralyzed people the ability to move around, talk, dance, and do most everything they could do before they became sick. Unfortunately, the effect of the drug tapered off, and the patients needed greater and greater amounts of L-dopa to receive the benefits. Eventually, The dosage required to obtain positive results exceeded the toxicity threshold, and so the doctor had to stop administering L-dopa to them. And one by one, all the patients became frozen again for the rest of their lives.
The book is called Awakenings, and it was written by Oliver Sacks, a physician and professor of neurology at the New York school of medicine. Dr. Sacks is the author of twelve books, including Uncle Tungsten, The Mind's Eye, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, and most recently, Hallucinations, which was published earlier this month.
Dr. Sacks' books are fascinating explorations into the way the human mind works, usually through studying abnormal minds and surprising ways in which they give us clues about perception, consciousness, and behavior. Interestingly, Dr. Sacks himself has face blindness, Asperger's syndrome, is blind in one eye, and is slightly deaf, which might explain in part why matters of the human mind are of great interest to him. He's one of my favorite authors, and because my coeditor at Boing Boing, David Pescovitz, is also an ardent admirer, he joined me in the following interview with Dr. Sacks.
Here is our interview with Dr. Sacks.