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The human brain as an organ has elicited lots of attention from scientists. The brain has been touted as being capable of adjusting itself to accommodate any new task that an individual sets out to accomplish (Tan 1137).
Even though new unexplored tasks require a lot of mental input at first, with time they are learned and can be accomplished almost unconsciously. Hugdahl (126) notes that whenever an individual carries out a task that demands a lot of attention, the parts of the brain associated with the task in question routinely increase activity.
Oliver Sacks explores this plasticity of the brain in his essay, The Mind’s Eye. He does this by articulating experiences of several blind people and with his own expert knowledge coupled with a few unique cases of sighted individuals. This aspect helps in giving an insight into the “worlds” of the blind coupled with how, in this state of blindness, their brains develop extra capacity to handle tasks that would otherwise be remotely conceivable.
This essay seeks to analyze Sacks’ essay with a focus on illuminating the key aspects of the experiences of the different blind men and women he encountered or read from and link them with the author’s other experiences in a bid to clearly understand the capabilities of the human brain.
Sacks lessons from experiences of the blind
Sacks narrates the experiences of different blind individuals whose work he has studied and relates them with each other in a bid to understand how the blind perceive their surroundings and in effect carry out their day to day tasks.
The function of the brain, through the mind, is highlighted for the mind is the conscious dimension of the human brain. In this state of consciousness, blind people, as evidenced by the different memoirs they authored, are in a position to go about their duties with a level of skill and tact that a sighted individual is incapable of achieving.
According to Sacks (203), Hull gradually sank into a state of “deep blindness” as he (Hull) called it. This state of blindness is akin to that experienced by individuals who are born blind and those who lose their sight at a tender age. From Hull’s book, Touching the Rock an Experience of Blindness, Sacks learns that it is possible to lose visual imagery even for an individual who becomes blind in adulthood.
After completely loosing visual imagery, Hull finds his auditory sense so enhanced that just by listening to rain, he is capable of making out an entire landscape. Based on Hull’s experience, Sacks confirms that a study by Helen Neville in which she posited that the brain had a way of reallocating the functions of its various sections for different new functions for which an individual has a need.
What is baffling is the fact that although Hull brings out his experience so vividly to the extent of convincing Sacks that every blind individual lacks visual imagery, Sacks came across several blind people who despite being blind for a long period of time, retain their visual imagery. What is more, their visual imagery is enhanced in their time of blindness than it initially was when they were sighted (Sacks 207).
This realization seems to refute Hull’s experience and the study by Helen Neville. However, this perception changes when Sacks encounters more blind people in person and via their pieces of work. One of the blind authors notes that despite being blind for a long period, making out a keyboard, for instance when typing, is quite normal.
In fact, this anonymous correspondent adds that in a new environment, it becomes difficult to find solace until a clear mental picture of the surroundings is constructed. The ability of a blind individual to enhance their inner visual ability is confirmed to Sacks by Torey whose extraordinary abilities after going blind left many baffled.
This blind person was capable of repairing the roof of his house single-handedly relying on his ability to form vivid mental images of his surroundings. In addition, Torey did some of the roof repairs in pitch darkness without much difficulty (Sacks 209). Having an engineering disposition about him, Torey was thus capable of creating mental images in so much detail that he narrates he could picture himself inside an operating transmission gearbox.
These experiences, coupled with several others from authors such as Tenberken whose visual imagery worked in the form of associating every phenomenon with a given colors including numbers days and so on, helps Sacks to realize that every blind individual responded uniquely to the loss of sight.
This position is confirmed when Lusseyran’s experiences in his early adaptation to blindness seems to resemble Hull’s experiences in terms of losing visual imagery (Sacks 219). What is unique about Lusseyran is that after losing the mental imagery for some time, he regains in what seems to be a miraculous occurrence.
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He just saw a flash of light and from then on, he was in a position to start developing mental images so vividly that he became a reliable contributor in the French resistance to the Nazi rule (Sacks 214). Sacks wonders at some point if there is any typical blind experience. This aspect points to the idea that he came to learn that every blind person had a unique way of perceiving things and their brains adjusted commensurately to accommodate the developing extra-sensory ability.
Based on the anecdotal evidence from blind authors, his personal experiences and knowledge coupled with experiences of some sighted individuals and studies by scientists, Sacks reaches a conclusion that there is nothing purely visual, purely auditory or purely anything. This assertion holds as the functions of the brain seem so interconnected that for individuals’ senses to perceive anything, it is a result of different functions of the brain.
The metamodal functionality of the brain
In this respect, Sacks notes that the brain especially that of the blind or blinded, operates in “metamodal” states which implies that the operation of the brain is a continuum of interconnected sensory activities of which none can be isolated from another and in their interconnectedness, there are no words that can actually describe processes (Sacks 78).
In the process of perceiving the world, whether as blind or sighted people, one sensory organ delivers given information which is in turn used to perceive another detail or phenomenon so that the final construction of the world that is “seen” is a series of interlinked sensory perceptions, which the brain processes to give the final picture.
As Pascual-Leone and Hamilton posit, “We are able to derive information from one sensory modality and use it in another …” (1). This assertion confirms that in deed the final perception that people develop of an object or one’s surroundings is a result of interconnected sensory activity.
Through this process, a blind person such as Tenberken is in a position to perceive numbers and words in terms of colors so that in her mind, she associates particular numbers with certain colors. She notes in her memoir,
The number 4, for example [is] gold. Five is light green. Nine is vermillion. Days of the week as well as months have their colors, too. I have them arranged in geometrical formations, in circular sectors, a little like a pie (Sacks 212).
Considering this aspect, it becomes obvious that for Tenberken to develop a mental picture of the numeral 4, 5, or a given day of the week and associate it with a given color or locate a given day on the geometric constructions in her mind and link it a given color, a series of interconnected sensory activity takes place. This aspect shows that her intense “synesthesia”, like normal perception is a result of the “metamodal” functionality of the brain.
Sack’s use of rhetorical strategies
In a bid to articulate his own ideas and anecdotal evidence from the blind authors with scientific studies, which try to explain the various processes and functionalities of the brain that enable the various abilities of the authors, Sacks employs a variety of rhetorical strategies.
Some of the examples include the following right at the beginning of the article, Sacks uses an analogy in which he compares the learning process in animals through organs to the learning process in humans. In this context, Sacks brings to the reader’s attention, the fact that people’s learning process is similar to that of animals, but with the ability to also train our organs.
In this very introduction, a chiasmus is also employed by saying that men are taught via their organs and they teach the organs in return. This element is employed at this point to ensure that the difference between animals is delineated.
Animals stop at the point where they have been taught, but humans proceed to train their organs in different ways depending on how they want their organs to serve them. Another example of rhetorical strategy use comes out when Sacks summarizes the experiences of the blind authors who sent him memoirs.
Hull’s experiences for instance, are summarized in a systematic aimed at helping the reader understand how the experiences were linkable to scientific studies. The process of analyzing the experiences of the authors is also a rhetoric strategy, which aids Sacks in bringing out his arguments to the reader clearly. These are just a few instances of the numerous rhetorical strategies employed in the article.
This essay sought to analyze Sacks’ article in order to understand his overall message on the ability of the brain to adapt to any situation an individual finds himself o herself in by developing extra-sensory ability. Through an analysis of various memoirs from a variety of blind authors and relevant scientific studies, Sacks has managed to demonstrate the ability of the brain to adapt.
The accounts of various blind individuals reveal that their brains adjusted to allow them to “see” through their minds despite their blindness. The most illustrious example of this ability is when Torey repairs the roof of his house single-handedly and not even during the day only but at night in pitch darkness as well. Eventually, Sacks agrees that perception is a complex process, but the brain can adapt to any situation that an individual finds himself or herself in without much difficulty.
Hugdahl, Kenneth. “Symmetry and asymmetry in the human brain.” European Review 13.2 (2005): 119-133. Print.
Pascual-Leone, Alvaro, and Roy Hamilton. “The metamodal organization of them brain.” Progress in Brain Research 134.1 (2001): 1-19. Print.
Sacks, Oliver. The mind’s eye, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010. Print.
Tan, Uner. “The Psychomotor theory of Human Mind.” International Journal of Neuroscience 117.2 (2007): 1109-1148. Print.