Oliver Sacks article about migraine patterns

Oliver Sacks has an article in the NYT that talks about the patterns that are associated with migraines. Here’s a little excerpt:

“In my own migraine auras, I would sometimes see — vividly with closed eyes, more faintly and transparently if I kept my eyes open — tiny branching lines, like twigs, or geometrical structures covering the entire visual field: lattices, checkerboards, cobwebs, and honeycombs. Sometimes there were more elaborate patterns, like Turkish carpets or complex mosaics; sometimes I saw scrolls and spirals, swirls and eddies; sometimes three-dimensional shapes like tiny pine cones or sea urchins.

Such patterns, I found, were not peculiar to me, and years later, when I worked in a migraine clinic, I discovered that many of my patients habitually saw such patterns.” — from Patterns, by Oliver Sacks

Sacks discusses how many other physical conditions can produce geometric hallucinations: sensory deprivation, low blood sugar, fever, delirium, or the hypnopompic and hypnagogic states that come immediately before and after sleep.

I’ve experienced some of these patterns, particularly when I’m drifting off to sleep. I’ve seen some beautiful patterns, interesting enough that they almost pushed me to full awakening. I’ve thought, “What a great combination of colors. I’ll have to remember that tomorrow.” And of course, I can never remember.

Sacks then ties the migraine patterns to patterns that have been represented in art across cultures, times and disciplines–painting, weaving, tile work, basketry, architecture–and wonders whether these similar geometric patterns could have all been inspired by internal brain organization.

It’s a fascinating article. I’ve always been drawn to organized forms, repetitive images, patterns of shape and color. Perhaps I’ve been tapping into a larger historical or biological system of organization, made tangible by artists throughout time.

[Note: I copied this entry over from my Vox blog, which unfortunately is unable to export comments. So I also copied the comments because they were particularly interesting and I hated to leave them behind.]


Mr Sacks – a delightfully observant man – may be unique among doctors. He actually seems to have a curiosity that leads him to consider ideas NOT part of the medical dogma. That leads him to say things which may look new to doctors, but which are not new at all. So what is amazing about this story is not that people see (and hear and tap out and verbalize and smell) patterns constantly. But rather that a doctor actually paid attention to them.
Watt Pye
I like the patterns you design and that you share their diversified origins, ie., Henry’s doodling, organic microscopic materials, the colors and shapes you see as a result of your fascination with nature, order, and repetition. And that they probably, like Dr. Sacks’ migrain art, may be tap into the archetypes and what Jung calls the collective unconscious of art, mythology, and biology.
Here is a thesis – an interpretation of a popular thesis -There is no collective unconscious, and there are no collective archetypes. There are tons and tons of individual impulses and tons and tons of individual archetypes molded by interactions with folks close by.And these impulses can be observed. When observed, the observer muses that something must be going on. Out of all the possible accounts of what is “going on”, some observers lean to global and some to local accounts.

Then in an act of philosophical reification, big thinkers (like Jung) push the global accounts of local phenomena to the max, saying all the stuff observable in every local place and time is all connected.

Connected why? How?

In the mind of the observer with a prejudice.

Meanwhile, the alternative explanations are out there waiting to be pushed. Maybe instead of archetypal, similarities are not as similar as the observer wants them to be, and instead, each moment expresses itself uniquely.

How does this sound?The more even a perception or pattern is (high in entropy), the less VISIBLE it is. When a perception or pattern has flaws or organized exception to entropy, it grabs the eye, gets the eye to act.The eye needs something to act on.

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2 Responses to “Oliver Sacks article about migraine patterns”

  1. How to Get Six Pack Fast Says:

    After reading the article, I just feel that I really need more information on the topic. Could you suggest some resources ?

  2. Emma Jones Says:

    Very nice article on migraines. Thanks for the great tips!

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