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The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks
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's review
Apr 30, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: 100-in-2011

2011 Book 46/100

I have read many (if not most) of Oliver Sacks' books about the medical mysteries of neurology. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat was one of my favorites, and this new endeavor ranks near that 1985 hit for me. I was relieved, because his last book, Musicophilia, bored me to tears - an unwelcome and totally unexpected reaction to one of my favorite science authors. With this book, which explores "the stories of people who are able to navigate the world and communicate with others despite losing what many of us consider indispensable senses and abilities: the power of speech, the capacity to recognize faces, the sense of three-dimensional space, the ability to read, the sense of sight. For all of these people, the challenge is to adapt to a radically new way of being in the world", as his website says, he returns to familiar territory, but adds his own story.

It was surprising to have so many of the chapters reference his own experience of his own eye cancer and the bizarre and disconcerting effects of losing vision to one side - and then expounds on that experience in a whole chapter devoted to his plight. It was slightly disconcerting to have him suddenly be the 'mystery' that he is exploring in his book, though the journals that he kept from 2005-2009 certainly made that chapter one of the richest in detailing the day to day tribulations of vision loss and the ways that our brains compensate. One of my favorite stories was of how his own visual cortex began to “fill in” his blind spot with imagery borrowed from the parts of the scene he can see. The ever resilient brain, he remarks, “does not just fill in color, it fills in patterns too, and I enjoyed experimenting with my own scotoma, testing its powers and limitations.” A brick wall looks like a red blob from nearby, but as he pulls away, the grain and grid fill in perfectly where he otherwise has a blind spot. A complex patterned rug works best of all, filling in slowly from the sides and creating an illusion that he is seeing the whole rug.

If you'd like to see what his writing is all about, here is a link to a New Yorker story that is taken from his work on this book. Enjoy!
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