Observations placeholder

Sacks, Oliver - If only I could go back sometimes and be a dog again!

Identifier

011077

Type of Spiritual Experience

Background

This isn't accessing perceptions, he has either acquired access to new functions, or the functions he has are working better.

In the former case, whether these functions were 'downloaded' to him as a bit of fun, or whether he has acquired access to the database of functions of species is a moot point

A description of the experience

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

Stephen D aged twenty two, medical student, on highs – cocaine, PCP, chiefly amphetamines.  Vivid dream one night, dreamt he was a dog, in a world unimaginably rich and significant in smells.  Waking, he found himself in just such a world.  ‘As if I had been totally colour blind before and suddenly found myself in a world full of colour’.

He did, in fact have an enhancement of colour vision -   ‘I could distinguish dozens of browns where I’d just seen brown before.  My leatherbound books, which looked similar before, now all had quite distinct and distinguishable hues’ - and a dramatic enhancement of eidetic visual perception and memory.

‘I could never draw before, I couldn’t see things in my mind, but now it was like having a camera lucida in my mind – I saw everything, as if projected on the paper, and just drew the outlines I saw.  Suddenly I could do more accurate anatomical drawings’.

But it was the exaltation of smell which really transformed his world; ‘I had dreamt I was a dog – it was an olfactory dream – and now I awoke to an infinitely redolent world – a world in which all other sensations enhanced as they were, paled before smell.

‘I went into a scent shop’ he continued ‘I had never had much of a nose for smells before, but now I distinguished each one instantly – and I found each one unique, evocative, a whole world’.  He found he could distinguish all his friends – and patients – by smell; ‘I went into the clinic, I sniffed like a dog and in that sniff recognised, before seeing them, the twenty patients who were there.  Each had his own olfactory physiognomy, a smell face, far more vivid and evocative more redolent, than any sight face’.  He could smell their emotions – fear, contentment, sexuality – like a dog.  He could recognise every street, every shop, by smell – he could find his way around New York, infallibly, by smell.

Sixteen years have passed – and student days, amphetamine days, are long over.  There has never been any recurrence of anything remotely similar.  Dr D is a highly successful young internist, a friend and colleague of mine in New York.  He has no regrets – but he is occasionally nostalgic.

‘That smell world, that world of redolence’ he exclaims ‘so vivid, so real!  It was like a visit to another world, a world of pure perception, rich, alive, self sufficient, and full.  If only I could go back sometimes and be a dog again!’

The source of the experience

Scientist other

Concepts, symbols and science items

Concepts

Function

Symbols

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps

Activities

Overloads

Amphetamines and stimulants
Cocaine
PCP

References