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My interest in the deaf and Martha's Vineyard


Supplying clinical data to the great theorists
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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I tend to fluctuate a certain amount between the... the general and the specific. Now, in particular I found Edelman’s books rather difficult; I’m not the only person who finds them difficult. I found them difficult because they were so abstract. I wanted to say: give me an example! And in fact, my copies of his books are... are annotated with clinical examples. I tend to start from the clinical example. Edelman, by the way, has often said to me, very much as Crick said to me, 'Tell me stories…give me clinical data'. And there were these two great theoreticians in La Jolla, the great theorists of the nervous system, and they were both starved for evidence. They needed data from the laboratory, but they needed clinical data from people like me.

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: La Jolla, Francis Crick, Gerald Edelman

Duration: 58 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012