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Oliver Sacks: A Journey From Where to Where

Friday, October 27, 2017 - 12:09 AM

There’s nothing quite like the sound of someone thinking out loud, struggling to find words and ideas to match what’s in their head. Today, we are allowed to dip into the unfiltered thoughts of Oliver Sacks, one of our heroes, in the last months of his life. 

Oliver died in 2015, but before he passed he and his partner Bill Hayes, in an effort to preserve some of Oliver’s thoughts on his work and his life, bought a little tape recorder. Over a year and half after Oliver’s death, Bill dug up the recorder and turned it on. Through snippets of conversation with Bill, and in moments Oliver recorded whispering to himself as he wrote, we get a peek inside the head, and the life, of one of the greatest science essayists of all time.

The passages read in this piece all come from Oliver’s recently released, posthumous book, The River of Consciousness

Special thanks to Billy Hayes for letting us use Oliver’s tapes, you can check out his work at




Billy Hayes and Dr. Oliver Sacks


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Comments [28]

Rex from Toronto, Canada

I found the piano piece after shazaming the podcast on my phone. Sounds like Bach but it isn't. It's an improvisation by Gabriela Montero called Beyond Bach.

Jan. 15 2018 11:22 AM

Another one looking for that piano piece...

Jan. 01 2018 02:32 PM
Kari from Finland

Great episode, thank you. Would also love to know what that piano piece was?

Dec. 26 2017 06:35 AM
Lauren from Boston, MA

Thank you for that wonderful tribute of a life well lived and a love deeply felt.

Dec. 20 2017 09:50 PM
Molly McGinn from Prescott, Arizona

I loved the musings about mis-hearing words and what "free association" sneaks in through the unclear syllables ..the auditory typos of the deeply associative mind.
A huge thanks to Ray for sharing this with us and for all of you for weaving it so beautifully together.

Dec. 02 2017 07:59 PM
Esme Hedrick-Wong from Salt Spring Island

Thank you VERY MUCH for this wonderful podcast. It was deeply moving. I'm grateful Bill Hayes shared this intimate, heartbreaking and special time with Oliver Sacks. He is a great scientist, an inspiring communicator, and above all, a humanist who has touched so many people's hearts. His work surely will live on.

Nov. 30 2017 04:02 PM
Dr. Patricia Hayes from WA State

An intimate, sensory, and cognitive experience with the real life settings of two inspiring lovers, friends, and scholars during precious, productive time together. This could not have been easy to share but so valuable for the listener.
Thank you for publishing.

Nov. 10 2017 12:32 AM
Adam from Portland, OR

Please return to story telling. This piece felt indulgent and only relevant to idealizers of Oliver Sacks. If you’re going to do a remembrance episode take a cue from This American Life’s recent episode “Our Friend David”
This doesn’t feel like the in depth reporting you promised when you solicited our donations.
What was your goal with this episode? What did you want the listener to learn or appreciate? What would the listener learn about Oliver sacks that is unique?

Nov. 07 2017 07:56 PM
Steve Saltekoff from Eugene, Oregon

Thank you for this wonderful, sweet, touching treat. This wonderful person will be missed but in a way, he will be with us for generations to come.

Nov. 07 2017 11:29 AM
Russ from Ithaca, NY

Thank you to Radiolab and Bill Hayes for this. OWS was one of my intellectual, literary, and above all, human heroes. The rough audio turned out to be a good thing, as it forced my to sit down, put on headphones and focus. Well done on music and editing.

Nov. 05 2017 06:05 PM
Mark Kane from Des Moines. IA

Back to science, please, and how about AI too.

Nov. 04 2017 10:07 AM
Mintie from Chicago

How special to hear Dr. Sacks’ voice again, albeit a little heartbreaking as well. He is greatly missed.

Nov. 02 2017 06:22 PM
Conner Smith from New York

Great podcast! Such an intellectual and influential story. Morgan from Maine is completely correct it was ultimately great to hear his voice again.

Nov. 02 2017 03:50 PM
Neg Felsstrait from Berlin

Why couldnt you have kept the Guys dignity off the air?
Just because he wrote a lot in his dying days, does not mean its radio worthy.

Really indulgent radiolab.
reprop up the Sack Corpse and worship it again.

Nov. 01 2017 05:54 PM
John from USA

I'm reluctant to listen. I wonder how much of these 39 minutes is padded out by the Sacks stammer.

People with a critical ear/mind seem to find this pointless.

Everyone else, as usual, wants the name of some piano music.

To quote god talking to Noah, "How long can you tread water?"

Nov. 01 2017 11:33 AM

Just another comment asking for the piano piece passing by.
Great episode!

Oct. 31 2017 11:56 AM
Morgan from Maine

Many thanks to Bill Hayes for sharing something so personal and intimate with all of us. I suspect many of Radio Lab's listeners deeply miss Oliver Sacks and, like me, were so happy to hear his voice again.

Oct. 31 2017 11:34 AM
Deborah from Montreal

Wow. At first, I became distracted: what is this crinkly, sonically crackly old-school recording? Then perhaps the piano music, perhaps the crackly old radio sound drew me in, and forced me to be silent, pay attention. Rather than do the dishes or some other activity, I sat and closed my eyes. I let myself listen fully, and be there in the room with Oliver and Billy. So very intimate. Thank you.

Oct. 30 2017 10:56 PM
James Cunningham from Fukuoka, Japan

Yes, all the music was amazing. Would it be possible to get a track list for the music in this episode?

Oct. 30 2017 06:22 PM

I would also love to know the name of the piece at 11:40. Is it Bach?

Oct. 30 2017 12:44 PM
Jim from Omaha

The random thoughts of Oliver Sacks were better than your last three podcasts combined.

Oct. 29 2017 05:33 PM
Michael deCamp from Jasper, GA

Loved this! OWS is one of my heroes; loved the Gabriela Montelione Beyond Bach pieces.

Oct. 27 2017 11:33 PM
Yoly Rinna

I would also like to know what the piano piece was. Lovely.

Oct. 27 2017 09:07 PM
Jhmd from California

Thank you for this wonderful podcast. It is the true struggle that we all must face, knowing that we have lived a good and productive life.

Oct. 27 2017 07:41 PM
Dave Z from Chicago

Love of Sacks blinded RadioLab’s better judgment. This is not a story. And at best needed significant editing.

Oct. 27 2017 06:20 PM
Mark Hacker from Centennial, CO

I'm sorry. What am I to take away from this, the tragedy of death? What am I missing? Am I too blunt, too callus, too cold?

Oct. 27 2017 05:36 PM

Wonderful! So good to hear this great man again...

What is the beautiful piano piece played during the podcast? I would like to play it, remembering him.

Oct. 27 2017 03:07 PM
Sammy Ramiz from London, England

A very, very special podcast. Thank you.

I'd really like to hear more science-based podcasts, as in 'the olden days'!. Hope there will be more to come. Great work Radiolab.

Oct. 27 2017 11:45 AM

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