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Rhetoric Analysis of The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks Essay

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Updated: Mar 30th, 2020


Eyes help people to see, and thus, individuals can construct vivid images about their environment. Such images help in forming people’s cognitions so that they can be in a position to attach meaning to their natural environment and objects in it. However, can blind people see? If they cannot, then how do they develop an understanding of their environment. Deploying accounts of four blind people, Oliver Sacks argues that the blind teach their other organs how to see. However, how effectively do they learn to see using alternative sensory organs? Rhetoric analysis of Oliver Sacks’ work responds to this interrogative.

Memoirs of the blind

Through memoirs with the blind, Sacks provides detailed accounts of how the blind see and construct motor imageries of their natural environment as opposed to visual imageries. For instance, Hull exemplifies how blindness does not hinder people from perceiving their environment. Sacks write in a manner that depicts Hull as a person who embraced blindness with positivism to the extent that although partially blind in the beginning, he is in a position to go through the transition into the blindness world.

For instance, Sacks writes, “Being a ‘whole-body seer,’ for Hull, means shifting his attention and center of gravity, to the other senses, and he writes again and again of how these have assumed a new richness and power” (Sacks 307). From this firsthand experience with blindness, Sacks learns that the blind can see if they accept their situations and learn to make their other senses effective. As such, it becomes possible to substitute their visual capabilities with motor imageries.

Through memoirs of Hull’s blindness, Sacks questions the capability of the brain to adapt to new experiences even at adulthood, which he conquers it is possible. He reckons that Hull’s case seems an extraordinary one in the context of the existing body of knowledge on the flexibility of sensory areas in the brain beyond the early age. However, Sacks nullifies this assumption by arguing that Hull’s experiences explain the possibility for flexibility in sensory areas in the brain, even among adults in their late ages.

He then backs up this assertion through research conducted in Boston, which proved that even five days of blindfolding an individual could cause some change on the brain’s activity towards non-visual behavioral and cognitive forms. Sacks add that in a study conducted in Italy, it was found that people kept in darkness for about 90 minutes develop tactile–spatial sensitivities. Even though he does not nullify the assumption of the possibility of inflexibility of sensory areas among the adults, citing this evidence gives an indication of the Sacks’ belief that the blind can see, but in not using the eyes followed by processing of the images in the usual sensory areas of the brain among people with normal eyesight.

Arguably, Sacks attempts to exemplify how people can undergo the transition from a visually active environment to a new environment of blindness through the Hulls’ case. However, experiences with other blind people teach Sacks otherwise. For instance, he cites the case of an individual who lost his sight at the age of 15 by claiming that he is not comfortable if he cannot identify himself with the visual environment. Many other correspondents also cite their inability to identify with Hull’s experiences. Therefore, can one lose visual memories? This puzzle continues to trouble Sacks.

Through Torey’s case, Sacks claims that the blind can see by developing an internal eye. This aspect requires the power of imagery imagination. He writes that this aspect enabled Torey to “think in ways that had not been available to him before, to envisage solutions, models, designs, to project himself to the inside of machines and other systems, and finally, to grasp by visual thought and simulation” (Sacks 308). This realization suggests that whatever people see fails to make sense without the power of imagination in their minds. These imaginations help in attaching meaning to the environmental objects, something the blind can do by training their mind to do it without the involvement of the eyes!

Torey and Hull’s memoirs exemplify how the mind can help in shaping the imagery thinking processes. However, can the blind engage in actions based on motor imageries? This aspect is perhaps possible in consideration of the Tenberken memoirs. Sacks write that Tenberken was a doer. He says that Tenkerken could construct internal world visually with her “almost novelistic, visual freedom, along with her remarkable and specific gift of synesthesia” (309), but he quickly wonders whether such a thing exists.

Sacks experience with Dennis Shulman further highlights this interrogative. Shulman claims that even though he has never seen some objects, he thinks of them visually, rather than in tactile. Alrene Gordon recounts a similar experience as after 30 years of blindness. She can still see her hands as she moves them around her blind eyes. These memoirs imply that imagery sensory constitutes a psychological phenomenon with the mind playing essential roles in creating meaning of the environmental objects.

By simply thinking about an object, it can exist even though physically in inexistence. This conclusion is perhaps accurate in consideration of Lusseyran memoirs. Though blind, Lusseyran could project images of conceived images into a virtual screen on the brain. Lusseyran memoirs nullify any hypothetical assumption that an eye is a vital component in helping to construct mental images of objects’ forms. Hence, an imagery form is not a fixed aspect in sensory motors, but it varies depending on the mode of sense.

Sacks explain to the readers that they need to interpret what he has learned from the different experiences of the blind by endeavoring to study how the blind construct meaning of their natural environment. He suggests that the readers should understand that the blind have their way of sensing objects and subsequently projecting virtual objects into their brain. In this way, they can detect the form of an object. Hence, seeing is replaced by other motor mechanisms of determining the form of an object. Hence, the reader should identify with the experiences of the blind by considering seeing a metamodel motor process.

Through the experience of other blind people that Sacks has met, he has learned that not all blind people can identify with others in terms of their experiences in imagery sensory. For instance, Hull claims that he lost visual cognition of how many objects looked like physically. Dennis claims that even after becoming blind, he still has an internal sight, which makes his world still visual. With this and other experiences of the blind people, Sacks believes it is sufficiently accurate to conclude that the blind can see. The only difference is that they deploy other sensory organs, rather than the eye, to sense objects in their environment.

Sacks’ additional understanding ‘metamodel’ and fixed functioning of the brain

Sacks argue that brain function is metamodel (inter-sensory) and not fixed. He states that the brain is organized in a metamodel manner. This assertion implies the sensory areas of the brain are not necessarily specialized to the extent that they cannot only be deployed to attach meaning to only one stimulus, but also other stimuli. Therefore, when one organ becomes ineffective, as in the case of acquired blindness, another organ becomes specialized to sense sight for synesthesia works such that this is followed by further development of the brain sensory area of the new specialized organ to process sight-related stimuli. For instance, a blind person may begin to use his or her hearing to help in constructing mental imageries of physical objects in the environment. Thus, the hearing sensory in the brain is not fixed to the extent that it can adapt to execute other additional functionalities upon its learning.

Arguing that the functioning of the brain is not fixed, but metamodel, it suggests that no person can be considered inherently blind. One sensory area helps in compensating for the deficits of the other. One sensory area is multifunctional, implying that sensory “modalities can never be considered in isolation” (Sacks 310). Hence, all senses collaborate in functionalities while creating mental images.

Through Hull’s case, Sacks suggests that people cannot lose visual abilities. Other experiences with the blind support Sacks’ thesis that the blind can see, as the eye is only one of the senses that play the seeing functionality. For instance, although Denis developed tactile abilities in replacement of his visual abilities, he argues that he can still see his hands moving around his eyes. Hence, Sacks’ thesis on the neuroscience of sensory areas of the brain of both the sighted and the blind is that the sighted and blind people’s brain is indifferent. This thesis relates with the title of the essay, The Mind’s Eye, as the mind has an internal eye, which helps in constructing vivid images of the objects in the natural environment of an individual.

Rhetorical strategies

Sacks’ essay attempts to convince its readers that the brain of the blind can see via narration. Early in the essay, he introduces the case of Hull, which opposes his thesis, but later with scholarly evidence and experience of various blind people, he reinforces the argument that people without their sight remain visual even into the late years of their life. He introduces the essay with a comparative anecdote stating the difference between the functionality of the animal organs and the human organs. This technique enables him to draw the attention of the readers and preempt possible conception about the brain’s functionality between animals and people. It also helps in narrowing the focus of the essay.

After introducing the Hull’s case, he then progresses to offer opposing experiences from valid people through comparison. This comparison enables him to develop a convincing case in support of his thesis that the brain of the blind can see. In a bid to align the readers with his thinking as informed by scholarly evidence on how the brain of the blind adapts by developing an internal eye, Sacks uses a series of interrogatives.

Experience with a blind person provides a response to each interrogative and leads to different contrasting lines of argument consistent with his thesis about the neuroscience of the brain of the blind. For instance, he cites Hull by saying that he lost visual imagery of how numeral three is shaped by replacing the imagery with motor imagery. However, he then notes that it is extraordinary for such change to occur on losing sight. In a bid to explain this impossibility, he draws evidence from neurological studies and biological studies.

Process analysis constitutes an important rhetoric strategy deployed by Sacks to develop his arguments. He argues that sighted people are unaware of their other potentials. Hull’s case proves that by focusing one’s attention on other potentials, different sensory modalities can become as active as rains bring out contours of everything. He says, “It throws a colored blanket over previously invisible things; instead of an intermittent and thus fragmented world, the steadily falling rain creates continuity of acoustic experience” (Sacks 312). This assertion implies that blindness compares to the rain to the extent that it helps people to unveil other potentials of their brain sensory areas so that not even one sensory area is fixated. With appropriate stimuli, specific sensory areas adapt to serve several other functionalities.

Sacks exemplify how the mind of a blind person sees by comparing it with the visualization of operation of a differential gearbox. In developing this comparison, he quotes Torey by explaining how his mind continues to visualize issues so that he can work in the same manner as sighted people. For instance, he could “watch the cogs bite, lock and revolve, distributing the spin as required” (Sacks 317). This assertion implies that even though people may not have the ability to see the inside of a gearbox, cognition of how it functions can help to construct vivid visual images of how the powertrain components interact with one another. This analogy equally applies and explains how blind people see with their mind.

Works Cited

Sacks, Oliver. The Mind’s Eye, New York: Vintage Books, 2010. Print.

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