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Richard Gregory's Exploratory


Correspondence and 2am phone calls with Richard Gregory
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Whenever I went to England I would spend time with him, we had many letters, and there were phone calls. I’m afraid I sometimes phoned him in the middle of the night. There was one occasion… I used to do… I used to cycle at night at one point when I lived on City Island, I would cycle at night because there was no traffic, I would get up at two o’clock and cycle for a couple of hours. And I noticed an odd thing, that sometimes, if I looked at the spokes of the wheel as it was revolving, there might be a moment when it was suddenly still, like a sort of strobe photograph or still photograph, and I was fascinated by this.

And I... and whenever visual things happen or other things, I instantly phoned Richard Gregory, I mean, there’s no hesitation. I think I failed to realised then that it was still in the middle of the night for Richard, but we discussed what this meant: was it due to the oscillating current from my dynamo? Was it due to the jerking movements of the eye one has? Or did it indicate that, in fact, the brain might construct a sense of motion from a series of... of stills. He didn’t mind me phoning him in the middle of the night, and I think he would go straight from... from sleep to sort of, full blaze intellectuality.

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: City Island, Richard Gregory

Duration: 1 minute, 4 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012