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William James: foundational figure for neurology and psychology


Scientific correspondence: a comparison between Darwin and myself
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Darwin was an indefatigable letter writer and correspondent. He wrote well over 500 letters a year, some of them very long letters. Some of them going to people, whether it’s a pigeon fancier in London or a naturalist at the other end of the earth, he was always enquiring for information. He himself was in the centre in his study at Down House, but he solicited information and knowledge from everywhere and it flowed in on him. And I... I have to say, though, alas, I’m not like Darwin  in any other respect, being now the recipient of hundreds or thousands of emails a year, many of which I answer, I... I too am nourished by a... a huge scientific correspondence, and I don’t think I could write my books now without them.

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: London, Down House, Charles Darwin

Duration: 1 minute, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012