Sunday, February 16, 2003

We recover who we are.

"While writing Uncle Tungsten, Sacks combed the Science Museum's archives for a photograph of the periodic table that shines in his memory, but he found only teasing near-misses taken a few years before or after the time of his pilgrimages there. In the last couple of decades, the old chemistry galleries have been cleared away to make room for more "kid-friendly" displays and corporate sponsorship events. The day we visited the museum, our quest for the former location of Mendeleev's garden took us to the third floor, where we came to a vacant landing. Sacks put his cushion on a step, sat down, and looked up at the white wall"

"It used to be here," he said. "That blank space is where Ollie Sacks had his revelation of infinity and saw God. I identified Mendeleev with Moses, coming down from Sinai with the tablets of the periodic law. I visualize, and can still see as I talk, the inert gases in their huge hexagonal jars - the jars looked empty, but you knew they were there. There were translucent sticks of phosphorus in water, and a fist-sized lump of iridium. It must have been a pound. I adored it. There was chlorine, green and swirling in the jar. I had seen dirty bits of cesium before, but they had a lot of it; it's the only other golden metal, golden and glinting. Masurium had no atomic weight - it was not clear whether this element had been discovered or not. And crystals of iodine, all sublimed at the top of the bottle.

"That's where it was. As I close my eyes, I see the cabinet and the cubicles. Do I see a little boy standing there, or am I seeing it through the eyes of that little boy? Just yesterday. And it's 55 years ago."

"By sharing the stories of our inner lives, we recover who we are and prepare ourselves for transformation"

~ from Wired April 2002. The Fully Immersive Mind of Oliver Sacks

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