July 18, 2012 9:40 pm

Delving into “Are You Out of Your Mind?”

I was a fan of the Robin Williams movie, “Awakenings,” so when I found out that Neil deGrasse Tyson had interviewed Oliver Sacks, the neurologist Williams played, I had to give it a listen.

In typical StarTalk Radio fashion, I learned some facts I wasn’t expecting to learn from the show, in which Neil and comic co-host Chuck Nice also interview guest neuroscientist and Huffington Post science blogger Cara Santa Maria. For instance, did you know that dolphins sleep with half of their brain at a time, so they don’t drown? Or that there is the same number of neurons in the human brain as there are stars in the galaxy or galaxies in the universe: 100 billion? Or which “recreational” drugs have psychiatric and therapeutic origins and uses?

Head and Brain image from "Are You Out of Your Mind" with Oliver Sacks, Neil deGrasse Tyson

Image credit: University of California, Davis.

Then there are the stories Oliver Sacks tells. There’s the one about the fellow neuroscientist who got hit by lightning, learned to play the piano and began writing symphonies. And the one about the 10-year old boy who started seeing angels. And why nearly every culture has visions of elves and other little people.

But more illuminating are the stories Sacks tells about himself. His descriptions of taking drugs and willing himself to see a luminous, numinous blob of indigo was poetic – and if you listen to the show, as a bonus you’ll get to hear Chuck Nice define numinous! For me, though, the deeply personal story Sacks tells about his last pharmacological trip, in 1967, that led him to his own awakening about his role in the world is the best part of the show.

What about you? Tell us your favorite part of “Are You Out of Your Mind” in the comments below.

That’s it for now.

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