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Oliver Sacks is a psychiatrist and neurologist best known for his collections of case histories from the far borderlands of neurological experience, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a[…]

Some of Darwin’s most revolutionary ideas were introduced through botany, says Oliver Sacks.

Question: What is your current fascination with Charles Darwin?

Oliver Sacks: A transformed Darwin appeared in 1860, a Darwin who is a beautiful experimentalist and who turned his garden and his conservatories really into an incredible botanical research station. 

And he wrote marvelous papers and six marvelous books. One on orchids, one on climbing plants, on insectivorous plants. And these are enchanting books, and also they have a special function and he himself mentioned this because he speaks of his botanical movements as “a flank movement on the enemy.” And what did he mean by this? It was very clear in, you know, when The Origin [of Species] came out, that there was outrage because human ancestry and human status was being brought into question. There was a huge upset.

But, with plants, maybe it’s okay. Plants are on a different kingdom. If they want to evolve, if natural selection occurs.

And so, in a fascinating way, really Darwinian ideas were introduced through plants and through the botanical books and through botany and evolutionary botany was the first evolution in science.

Recorded on: Sep 4, 2008