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William James' sensitivity to religious experiences


William James: foundational figure for neurology and psychology
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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I think another foundational figure for anyone, certainly anyone in neurology and psychiatry... psychology, is William James. In the... (although I should add in parentheses that I’m also quite fond of reading Henry James as well, but...) I think it must be every eight or 10 years, I read the Principles of Psychology from beginning to end and... and I always emerge with a new perspective and new insights. In 1890 then, when he wrote this, James was... was very aware of the science of experimental psychology, which had only got going in the last 10 or 15 years before him and he speaks incomparably about consciousness, the stream of consciousness as a... as a Jamesian in term and memory and attention and will and everything, and not dryly. James could not write a dry sentence. You feel the warmth of the man everywhere and also, the book is full of anecdotes, almost little case histories, if you want, of every sort. If I got lost on a desert island, I think I... and allowed a few books, that would be one of them. Another one by the way, I think would be the OED, the big Oxford English Dictionary. I’m a... I’m a great dictionary lover and I think all the thought of humanity, in a way, is... is somehow there in... in a dictionary, in the meanings of words and the examples.

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: Principles of Psychology, Oxford English Dictionary, William James, Henry James

Duration: 2 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012