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The story of Migraine and amphetamines


The 'academic spider' hallucination
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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I found myself talking to a spider on the wall. I think the spider opened the conversation, and it didn't seem to me in the least extraordinary that a spider should open a conversation. And, in particular, it was a very academic spider and it said, what did I think of Russell’s explosion of Frege's paradox? And I sort of tried to muster an answer. The... the spider had a very English, very aristocratic voice, I thought it sounded very much like Bertrand Russell, though... though partly the Bertrand Russell who’d been parodied by Jonathan and others in Beyond the Fringe. But, anyhow, many years later, in fact, about two years ago, I told Tom Eisner the story about the academic... the philosophical spider with a voice like Bertrand Russell, and he said, 'Yes', he said, 'I know the species'.

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: Beyond the Fringe, Thomas Eisner, Bertrand Russell, Jonathan Miller

Duration: 1 minute, 9 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 31 October 2012