Sunday, November 14, 2010

BOOK: The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks

The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks, 240 pages
released Oct 26, 2010

Science Book Challenge

I cannot decide whether this is nonsense or profound truth - it is the sort of reef I end up on when I think about thinking. p 226

Oh Mr Sacks, you sum up what happens to me all the time, and this book does get a person thinking. How do we see? How do we read? Is listening to a book reading? Is reading someone's lips hearing? Sacks delves into this world of perception and senses, providing case studies of some very unusual people.

I liked how the people, for the most part, adapt to their situation. Losing, or gaining, a sense (or even just an aspect of a sense, like recognizing faces) causes the brain to adapt and fit the new experience into existing pathways of the brain. Much of the book is quite scientific, referencing studies, and since this isn't my area of expertise at all, I found it a bit deep at times. Being very familiar with the brain sections and its specialties would have helped; but not knowing didn't diminish my interest.

Personally, the chapter on stereo vision was most interesting. I see only with one eye, my left eye is so weak, it never learned to see together with the right eye, a necessity for three dimensional vision. My left eye provides a bit of peripheral vision, but it's quite useless. (But cheaper, as I only need one contact.) So, this means I can't see 3D movies at all. I can, however, drive as I've always viewed the world in 2D, or flat and that is my experience. Just as perspective can be deduced in a picture, so too can I tell mostly where things are - near or far. The woman in the book who regained her stereo vision after 40 years without it, had the ability as a child. Her brain had the neural pathways to be 'awoken' so she could see a new way. Alas, I never will as I never had that capability in the first place.

A large portion of the book is Dr Sacks personal journal as he undergoes a cancer in the eye which leaves him without his 3D vision. Combined with his own experience of not recognizing faces and he appears to be one of his own best patients.I liked when he related his patients problems to his own, but his ability to microanalyze things he saw astounded me. Perhaps that is why I am not a neurosurgeon or neurobiologist.

Sacks has other books, similar I believe, that I would be interested in reading: His memoir Uncle Tungsten, along with Musicophilia, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and An Anthropologist on Mars. He references these books throughout The Mind's Eye. Sacks is also the doctor, and wrote the book, that the movie Awakenings was based on. I loved that movie, and deNiro and Robin Williams in it.

We, or maybe I, often believe that other people perceive the world much as we do. Reading this book has opened my eyes to experiences that I couldn't even imagine, like losing the ability to read, but still being able to write. Others certainly can't envision the flat world I live in. The complexity of the brain to adapt, adapt, adapt is inspiring and overwhelming.