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Loving and being 'in love'


The need for love
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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If an infant doesn’t have love and care, it will be dead by the age of two. This was shown in a terrifying experiment or description of an orphanage in Mexico. [Rene] Spitz wrote about this, and there was no love and no human attention of any sort to the orphans. They were mechanically fed and toileted. They stopped eating, they became thin, and they died. One sees the same with some monkeys. A monkey needs mothering, if there is no adequate mothering, the... the monkey becomes isolated, withdrawn, asocial; so things have to start with mother love, and perhaps mother and father love, but especially mother love. One of the things which worries me now is to see mothers wheeling babies along but blathering along on cell phones all the while. I don’t think they’re attending enough to their infants, I fear something awful may happen.

But… but one needs love at every stage of one’s life, to love and to be loved, and the love must be unconditional. You can’t say: I love you provided you’re a good boy and don’t make a mess. It has to be: I love you, even if you’re bad and make a mess. Perhaps love becomes more important as one gets older and frailer, and more dependent on other people. It’s also perhaps the only thing which can give a certain feeling of... of warmth.

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: Mexico, Rene Spitz

Duration: 2 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012