“To See and Not See”

May 10, 1993 Recently the media has given us two wonderful human-interest stories about people regaining the power of sight or hearing. In Coventry, England, a 74-year-old grandmother of twelve named Joyce Urch of Coventry, England, regained her eyesight after being blind for 26 years. A few days later we learned of 72-year-old Derek Glover of Lincolnshire, England, who regained his hearing on a ski lift after at least 15 years of severe hearing loss.

As is so often the case, lurking in the CNY is an illuminating article about an even more interesting case — a man who regained his eyesight after being blind since infancy. In 1993 the New Yorker ran an article by Oliver Sacks about a man pseudonymously identified as “Virgil,” a 50-year-old Oklahoman who opted to undergo an operation to restore his eyesight. As you can imagine, it’s quite a different thing to restore the eyesight of someone who never learnt how to see — at least Mrs. Urch could draw on vivid memories of sighted life. The difficulties Virgil underwent are truly fascinating and surprising — and of course Sacks is a master at spinning out the implications of such situations.


4 Responses to “To See and Not See”

  1. Johnny says:

    Within the last year, Esquire ran a similiar article about the blind recieving sight, and it was fascinating. In popular culture, the gift of eyesight is always portrayed as a miraculous event that is comprehended immediately by the formerly-blind. But the subjects in this article had to learn things that we take for granted on an almost primal level: the difference between men and women, what facial expressions mean, and whether a skyscraper is something really big far away or really small close up.

    If I remember correctly, the article mentions this piece by Sacks frequently. However, as there’s no Complete Esquire (yet), you’ll have to take my word for it.

    (PS: Great idea for a website…I’m glad I’ve found you!)

  2. Martin says:

    Thanks for the nice note. It’s an interesting area. I can’t recall if Sacks brings this up, but it seems to me that the concept of neural pathways is key here, and that’s a concept that has more cultural currency today than it did in 1993. The idea of course is that repeated actions or habits carve neural pathways in our brains. Every time we do something, some neural pathway is strengthened at the expense of another pathway that didn’t get strengthened, which makes it difficult to break from established patterns or habits in adulthood. I would think that in the case of a blind person, the neural map in the brain becomes set to conform to a sightless landscape — adding vision, which one would assume would be beneficial, actually just confounds the existing neural map entirely, there’s no way to assimilate that kind of information.

  3. Antibush says:

    Bush and the Republicans were not protecting us on 9-11, and we aren’t a lot safer now. We may be more afraid due to george bush, but are we safer? Being fearful does not necessarily make one safer. Fear can cause people to hide and cower. What do you think? Why has bush turned our country from a country of hope and prosperity to a country of belligerence and fear.
    If ever there was ever a time in our nation’s history that called for a change, this is it!
    We have lost friends and influenced no one. No wonder most of the world thinks we suck. Thanks to what george bush has done to our country during the past three years, we do!

  4. iidqjdvisx says:

    old mom masterbating

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