The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks
By Jessica Seaver
Those who are familiar with Oliver Sacks will recall some of the more extreme
While his previous works contained case studies spanning a wide variety of conditions, The Mind’s Eye examines a specific subset of disorders, those of visual perception and language. This book can be distinguished from other works by Sacks in that it resonates on a more personal level for the author. As a sufferer of mild prosopagnosia, or a decreased ability to identify/distinguish between faces, Sacks is able to include his own stories amidst those of his patients. In addition to prosopagnosia, the author was recently diagnosed with a tumor in his eye. Having experienced total loss of vision on the right side, he has had to adjust to living life half-blind. As Sacks explains, one major consequence of such loss is the absence of stereoscopic vision, something that most of us probably take for granted. In his world, three-dimensionality is a thing of the past. Through Sacks’ descriptions of how such an experience has altered everything down to his furniture arrangements, the reader is given an intimate look into the life of the perceptually-disabled. In addition to an extensive account of his own case, Sacks also incorporates those of previous patients, following the standard format that we have all grown accustomed to in his books.
The reader is first introduced to Lilian, a gifted pianist who has lost the ability to read. While this may seem only slightly unusual, the truly striking aspect of Lillian’s condition is that she not only lost the ability to read text, but also music. As with many of the cases in The Mind’s Eye, Lilian’s disorder affects one of the most prominent aspects of her life. This is seen in the case of Howard, a novelist who awoke one day to find that, while he could still write, he could no longer read what he had written. What sets this book apart from previous works is Sacks’ focus on what each patient can do. Though each story tells of loss, there is also an emphasis on the process of recovery and compensation. Although Lilian could no longer read sheet music, she experienced an enhanced ability to remember tunes and thus replicate them. Through this, she has discovered a passion for composition. And Howard, unable to read his own work, simply has an assistant read aloud what he’s written. Such examples serve to demonstrate the plasticity of the brain and our ability to adjust to new conditions.
As with most of Sacks’ work, these stories leave the reader with a renewed awe of the intricacies of the human brain. Sacks finds the perfect balance between science, medicine and the human experience. This book can be enjoyed and understood by the readers of all backgrounds.
The Mind’s Eye, Oliver Sacks, Alfred A. Knopfe Press, 274 pages
Subject: Biomedical Science
blog comments powered by Disqus