Oliver Sachs thesis is based on the neuroscience sensory areas of the brain. Through his interactions with several blind people and reading their memoirs he has come to the conclusion that there is a rich interconnectedness and interactions of the sensory organs of the brain.
One cannot really explain that anything in life is purely visual and that another object is purely auditory. The sensory modalities therefore cannot be considered in isolation at all. The blind people have the ability to build highly descriptive visual images from the information that they receive from other sensory organs such as speech and sound. Language can cause a blind person to visualize and describe landscapes so beautifully yet he has never seen the place.
A blind person can describe landscapes with colors so beautifully that a sighted person even wonders who between the two of them is blind. He therefore concludes that visual capabilities are not simply dependent on the physical eyes. The mind of an individual has an eye which is capable of generating and holding images. Both the sighted and the blind have visual capabilities though they are different. The title of the essay, “Mind’s Eye” is therefore very appropriately used by Sach’s in writing down his findings of his research.
The blind and sighted people therefore according to Sachs both use their visual senses. He had believed previously that the brains of the people who had lost visual or hearing capabilities had gone through an adjustment process. For blind people, the visual capabilities had been reallocated or transferred to other sensory capabilities such as sound and smell. Blind people had heightened sound and smell capabilities.
This was demonstrated by the interaction Sachs had with Dennis Shulman, a clinical psychologist. Dennis had become very alert after becoming completely blind. He could recognize patients by their smells. He could also sense the moods that a patient was in when he or she came to see him.
He would immediately sense when the person became tense or anxious. He had realized that sighted people relied too much on visual appearances of an individual yet it was so easy for an individual to camouflage and present a fake picture of his character and his feelings. He felt that the smells and the sounds of people revealed much clearly people’s depths in who they actually were.
It was with this view of reallocation of the brain sensory organs that Sachs approached the study on adjustment after blindness in adults. However his view changed after the study. He interacts with several blind people who have different experiences in adjusting to life after blindness.
Oliver read the memoirs of John Hull who had lost vision in his left eye gradually from the ages of thirteen to seventeen. The right eye became completely blind at forty eight. It had started becoming weaker from the time he was thirty five. Hull lost his visual memories and imagery. Concepts such as the appearances of people and objects were no longer applicable to him (Hull, 1992, pg 23). He started to rely more on other senses especially hearing.
Oliver proposes that the reason for this could be that his blindness was gradual.
Zoltan Torrey, on the hand, a psychologist who had lost his sight immediately through an accident had different experiences from Hull. He had been advised to switch from visual to an auditory mode of adjustment however he refused to do that (Torrey, 2004, pg 45).
Instead he worked to develop the inner eye and sharpen his visual imagery as much as possible. He is skilled in generating and manipulating images in his mind. He constructed a visual image world in his mind that resembled the real world so much such that he was able to even do repairs of his roof in the middle of the night. Oliver Sachs suggests that the visual abilities of Torrey were possible due to the rich childhood that he had.
While growing up, Torrey grew up in an intellectual environment of writers and artists. His father, a film studio owner, brought him scripts regularly to read when he came home from work. From a young age he learnt to work his imagination by visualizing stories, plots and characters. When he became blind he decided to hold on to light and visual sight as much as possible.
Oliver Sachs also interacted with SabriyeTenberken, a blind woman who had different experiences after becoming blind. While Hull and Torrey had been concerned with their mental adaptation after loss of sight, Sabriye had acquired great passion to help blind people after becoming blind.
She had travelled all over Tibet establishing schools for the blind and providing systems for the integration of these graduates back into the community. The people of Tibet generally do not treat the blind people well. They lack equal opportunities to excel in academics and professional careers.
For Sabriye, she had impaired eyesight from birth. Till the age of twelve, she could make shapes of people and landscapes. Twenty years after losing her sight completely,
she has strong pictorial and synesthetic abilities. She has the ability to give deep verbal descriptions of landscapes. Her descriptions are so vivid they even astonish her listeners. She still possesses her visual memories. Oliver Sachs writes that her visual prowess can be traced to the fact that when she was as young as age five she had been fond of painting and colors.
Her attraction to colors is so intense that words and figures can represented in her mind in connection with specific color shades. The number four to Sabriye is represented as gold.
At the end of the day Sachs finds that the way an individual will life his life after being blind may depend on such factors such as the age total blindness occurred, whether the blindness was gradual or immediate and the experiences the individual had gone through prior to the blindness.
The common factor among the blind people was that the cornea was more sensitive to signals from the other senses after the person become blind. The question though is the role of sight senses in the lives of the individual. Sachs summarizes his view on his interactions with the blind people by saying that Torrey’s visual prowess was due to his upbringing. Torrey was visually inclined from the time he was young.
He could come up with highly visual stories whose plot was based on the scripts his father brought him to read. Torrey as an individual was already skilled in visual imagery and manipulation of the imagery even before he lost his sight (Sachs, 2010, pg 55)
Sachs in explaining why other blind people had different experiences from Hull says that
SabriyeTenberken had several physiological factors different from Hull. From the time Sabriye was young, she was attracted to painting and the different colors that artists used. Even before she became blind, her brain was able to look at letters and numbers and associate them with certain shapes and colors. Her visual cortex already had a great relationship or connectivity with language and sound. When such an individual as Sabriye goes blind, the visual imagery will continue and even in several cases be heightened (Sachs, 2010, pg 55 )
After reviewing the three experiences, Oliver Sachs concludes that there is no such term as a “typical blind experience. He met Dennis Shulman, a clinical psychoanalyst who thirty five years later after gradually losing his sight in his teens had different experiences from Hull.
Shulman viewed the world from a visual standpoint. He has visual images of his wife and kids though he has never seen them. He even saw his Braille notes which he used for lecturing as visual images. An elderly woman, Arlene Gordon, who is seventy years old had strong visual images. She could “see” her hands when she moved them about. While listening to audio books she felt like the spoken words were actually printed
Finally, Oliver Sachs He compares the accounts of the blind people in his essay and is struck by how different the experiences are when it comes to visual images and memories. Hull had no visual memories or images, over time they had disappeared. Torrey had determined to concentrate on visual imagery in his life daily and it had paid off. Sabriye was blessed highly with visual imagery. Sachs therefore supports his thesis or argument well. There is a high interconnectedness in the sensory organs of the brain.
Hull, John. Touching the Rock: An Experience of Blindness. New York: Vintage
Sachs, Oliver. The Mind’s Eye. New York: Knopf publishers. 2010. Print.
Torrey, Zoltan. Out of Darkness. Australia : Pan Macmillan publishers. 2004. Print.