Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fixing My Gaze

by Susan R Barry
272 pages.

A brain scientist walks into an eye doctor's office and says, "Doc, I'm having this trouble with my vision."

It sounds like the start of a joke, but it's not. This book is the story of Susan Barry, a neuroscientist, who lacks stereovision or depth perception. Cross eyed in early infancy, Susan Barry never learned to see the world in three dimensions. She lived in a flat, two dimensional reality that would be hard for any of us to fathom. As she approached 50, Barry went to an optometrist about other vision problems and the doctor held out the possibility that it might still be possible to learn to see in 3D.

For Barry, this sounded like nonsense since neuro theory holds that there are certain critical periods to learn skills and Barry was far too old to learn to perceive depth. Yet for some reason she went for it, and came out being able to see the world in all three dimensions.

Barry tries to describe the wonder of being able to perceive a three dimensional world for the first time, but fails, because it's almost impossible for someone with typical eyesight to understand the limitation of a person who lacks stereovision. Yet it is clear that something wonderful has happened and that a brain too old to learn has mastered a skill that should have been picked up 50 years earlier. As you read this book, you start to see that there is an awful lot about the brain that we just do not understand. Our brains are "fearfully and wonderfully made" and what we don't understand about them is greater than what we do.

As more issues arise involving the wiring and chemistry of the brain arise, this book forces one to wonder what might be done for autism, or perhaps depression if we can teach the brain to rewire itself. It gives hope for cures to what once seemed incurable.

Fixing My Gaze sometimes seems a bit technical as it delves into long descriptions of how people see the world, but if you don't like that it can be forgiven for the way this book broadens your view of the capabilities of the human brain. The book is about 160 pages long (the rest is a glossary, notes and an index) so it's not a long and difficult read even with the technical details.

It's an inspiring story that leaves you thinking.

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