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Science fiction, Star Trek and meeting Mr Spock


Wells versus Stapledon; Owen versus Darwin
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Wells and Stapledon were briefly friends, but then I think Wells turned against him. It’s not easy having someone in the same field. Wells had written about this sort of... Hapley and Pawkins, I mean this could have been, and perhaps it was, Darwin and Owen.

Owen was a great anatomist and a very important describer of fossils. The... the term ‘dinosaur’ comes from Owen, and he and Darwin were very friendly, up to a point.  Up to the point when The Origin [of Species] came out, and Owen was a... a biblical literalist and he... he couldn’t bear Darwin’s way of thinking. First, anonymously, or pseudonymously, and then in other ways, he attacked Darwin in really vile ways. Darwin never replied to him directly, but Thomas Huxley, who used to be called Darwin’s bulldog, sort of, went... went to the fight. Now if you go into the Natural History Museum, Richard Owen, I think founded the museum, but you see the statues of Richard Owen and of Darwin, and you see them as great contemporaries, whereas, in fact they were... they were mortal enemies. Darwin was not a hater. Owen was a hater. I think haters are hateful. I... I hope I’m not a hater myself. I... I don’t think I am.

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: The Moth, The Origin of Species, Natural History Museum, Charles Darwin, Richard Owen, HG Wells, Olaf Stapledon, Thomas Huxley

Duration: 1 minute, 52 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012