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Stories associated with chemical elements


Quoting 'Childhood's End' in 'Musicophilia'
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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The interest in science fiction, I think, sort of, in some way evaporated when I was in my early 40s. I gave away my science fiction library, and... and I’ve not read any science fiction for... for decades. However, I have to say this, that my book, Musicophilia starts with a quotation from Arthur C Clarke, in his novel, which I love, called Childhood’s End. He…  in this... a... the earth is ringed by [a spacecraft full of] super beings of great intelligence, and apparently benign disposition, who are keeping an eye on the earth. They have a special reason for doing so, which does not emerge earlier in the book, but there is a scene when one of the super beings descends to earth and goes to a concert. And he listens, and he is... he is very puzzled, but he comes up to the composer and he congratulates the composer on his great ingenuity, while entirely failing to get what music is like or what music is about.

The supermen have no music and they all, if you want, suffer, almost. Not suffer, they all have amusia. They have no idea what music is like. And anyhow, I quote this at the very opening of Musicophilia, and also partly by way of saying that we, as a species, with very few exceptions, are all geared to music. That there’s no culture where music doesn’t exist and doesn’t have a central role, many central roles, and that clearly this goes back tens of thousands of years, because one has found bone flutes, and things from... going back to 40,000.

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: Musicophilia, Childhood's End, Arthur C Clarke

Duration: 2 minutes, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012