The man who mistook his blog for a manifesto

Driving home today I was revisiting my favorite podcast, Radiolab.  It is fantastically well done storytelling that tends to live in the science space that I love.   I've never fallen so fast and so deeply into something as I did with Radiolab, I felt like I was freebasing it, just consuming it as quickly as I could.  It's one of the only podcasts that I routinely revisit stories that I've already listened to over and over.

Through Radiolab's stories, I was introduced to someone whom I am kicking myself for not mentioning in yesterday's blog post when I was listing science communicators, Dr. Oliver Sacks.  

You may not realize that you know of Dr. Sacks.  His first book as a neurologist, Awakenings, was made into a major motion picture with Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro. I don't know if I realized it at the time, but this was "based on a true story".   It is quite a good film, and one that stuck with me throughout my life.

His style, not just reporting on the scientific facts of a case, but telling the story of the patient, the patient's feelings and journey, in beautiful prose split the scientific community.  Some felt his style was fame seeking, others looked at it as a throwback to 19th century medical histories.  Either way, his long and storied career came to a close very recently when he lost his battle with cancer.

So why am I putting together a post on him on an Epcot and Disney based blog?  Well, firstly, because I want to.  Secondly as a mea culpa for not mentioning him in yesterday's post.

More importantly however is how his writing style really fit hand and hand with what is missing from Epcot today.  He was able to take scientific topics and through narrative and wonderful writing, get us to connect with his patients in a deep way.  He took subjects that for the most part are treated as clinical and unemotional and he let us connect with the topic in a way that we can get not just the science, but what it means to us at a human level as well.

This is something that I think the designers of Epcot Center knew well.  They knew that science only takes you so far, but narrative and emotion (laughter, awe, excitement) are what form the bond with the individual that sticks with them.

Here is one of many appearances of Dr. Sacks on Radiolab, and I cannot recommend digging up the rest highly enough.  

His many books can be found on Amazon, his writing in the NY Times, and on quite a few Radiolab podcasts.   His autobiography was my Father's Day present this year, and sits on my nightstand.