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Observations placeholder

Oliver Sacks - Mrs O'M hears choirs singing



Type of Spiritual Experience


Number of hallucinations: 1


When Mrs O’M had most of her other senses still so that only her hearing was occupied, she either heard nothing or a single tone – which to the perception system is the same as nothing.  And so she hallucinated, her composer went off to find her things to listen to.

Once she became occupied so that her other senses were activated, the composer had less chance to form an hallucination, so  she heard less.

A description of the experience

The Man who mistook his wife for a hat – Oliver Sacks

For a year or more, there was nothing but these songs, in maddening succession.  After this – and though it was worse in one way, it was also a relief – the inner music became more complex and various.  She would hear countless songs – sometimes several simultaneously; sometimes she would hear an orchestra or choir; and occasionally, voices, or a mere hubbub of noises. 

When I came to examine Mrs O’M I found nothing abnormal except in her hearing, and here what I found was of singular interest.  She had some inner ear deafness, of a commonplace sort, but over and above this she had a peculiar difficulty in the perception and discrimination of tones of a kind which neurologists call ‘amusia’, and which is especially correlated with impaired function in the auditory or temporal lobes of the brain.

She herself complained that recently the hymns in the chapel seemed more and more alike so that she could scarcely distinguish them by tone or tune, but had to rely on the words or the rhythm.  And although she had been a fine singer in the past when I tested her she sang flat and out of key.  She mentioned too that her inner music was most vivid when she woke up, becoming less so as other sensory impressions crowded in; and that it was least likely to occur when she was occupied – emotionally, intellectually, but especially visually.

The source of the experience

Sacks, Oliver

Concepts, symbols and science items


Celestial music


Science Items


Activities and commonsteps



Deafness and tinnitus