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'The Lewis Thomas crisis'


'The Scientist as poet' – Lewis Thomas
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Incidentally I was given the Lewis Thomas Prize at Rockefeller for what they call the Scientist as Poet. Interestingly, his... he of course made a mid-life change and when he was about 50 he... he said to himself, I have written 200 well-esteemed scientific articles, but I do not feel I have expressed myself, and I want to do something really different with a much more personal and emotional quality, and he said he started to write something... no, that he first planned something out in the same way as his scientific papers, the outline, and it was no good, and he then said, that won't work, and he just started writing without any plan beforehand or any conscious idea of what he was going to write about, and that became the new way of writing.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Rockefeller University, Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science, Lewis Thomas

Duration: 1 minute, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012