Oliver Sacks takes a profound look into the lives of individuals who have had their entire lives shift from one of normalcy, to one inflicted by the disability of blindness. However, despite how tragic their inability to see may be interpreted by those around them, for the most part, the individuals portrayed in the Mind's Eye have been able to surpass the obstacles presented to them. In this collection of essays, Sacks takes readers on a path of understanding both the limitations imposed upon those stricken with blindness, as well as the assumptions of those who surround them.
Sacks shares with his readers the immense learning that he was able to gain through the memoirs of the blind authors that he studied. In almost every opportunity granted to the individuals who are blind, they were able to take advantage not of what they were missing, but instead they divulged themselves into what they were able to gain. Sacks is impressed in not only how the individuals are able to cope with their deficiencies, but how they are so effortlessly able to compensate for what they lack. One of the first characters that is introduced is Lilian. She lost her ability to read music, however, with her persistence and musical talent. She was able to listen to music and read it in her mind. Her mind became her eyes.
The case was also the same in Howard. Howard woke up one day unable to read anything. Objects, landmarks, and scriptures were unfamiliar to him. He was able to recognize that he knew them, but was unable to pinpoint what they actually were. In this case, his ability to read malfunctioned, but his ability to write was not. His writing then became his vision. His brain was able to process writing effortlessly, and he therefore had to retrain himself to learn back the things that he had lost. These two aforementioned characters were able to substitute their inability to be a normal person, with their desire to overcome their disability. As Sacks rendered consistently throughout his book, their ability to compensate for their loss changed their way of viewing the world around them.
Sacks was able to come to an understanding with what each blind author had to go through. Just as Sacks experienced his own tragedy with vision, he was able to not only see himself in the individuals from the book, he was able to see and envision different people within them. Despite their loss of vision, the characters were all able to see again. Instead of dwelling on what life had handed to them, they were able to train themselves into being who they once were, and even into who they eventually wanted to be. Additionally, Sacks notes how much compensation is applied from all parties involved.
Biologically, the brain compensates for what it has lost. Psychologically, blind individuals are able to pull the means to not see their loss as a tragedy, but as a hurdle that needs to be overcome. And socially, others compensate for what they too assume the blind individuals have lost. Sacks himself makes it easier on the blind individuals that he meets by wearing specific colors that make him able to stand out and to be followed, as well as standing in specific areas so that he is able to be seen more by these people who have lost their ability to see normally. Compensation is a term that Sacks constantly uses as being the balance that blind individuals forgo in order to deal with their disorders.
Sacks refers to the term metamodal. This is in turn used to describe the interconnectedness of the mind and its ability to compensate in a situation where something grave is lost; in this case, vision is that disability. Once the brain loses its ability to see properly, it is able to form extra connections in order to intensify the other senses that the brain is used for. For example, just as one may have a plethora of electric wires in order to connect electronic systems, once one of those electronic systems are no longer functioning, those cables are still left over to be used for intensifying another system. This is the case with the metamodal system of the brain.
To continue with the aforementioned example, when vision is no longer being used properly, or when the ability to use vision as it is intended to fails, other systems take its place. There is such a rich interconnectedness between neurons in the brain, that losing a function does not necessarily mean that the function is lost and that those neurons are lost as well. It signifies that now the firing of those neurons can be used in order to make another part of the brain more powerful and more sensitive to intensification. Sacks argues that his concept is not fixed because if it were to be fixed, then once a particular ability were to be lost, then it would just be gone. However, due to the fact that it is not fixed, one loss of ability can be compensated for another.
Synesthesia is when one sense can be perceived as being another sense at the same time (Bear and Connors, 728). For example, if a person smells something, they may not be able to perceive it as smell, but as hearing something. Or a person who hears a specific sound may not be able to process it through auditory means, but instead may process it as being the color red. Synesthesia proves the ideas behind the metamodal. Because these perceptions can so easily be interpreted as one another, the proof of intense interconnectedness and compensation of one loss for the other can be clearly established. Individuals who hear a particular sound, but then interpret it as a familiar taste may be inflicted with synesthesia. This however, proves just how close to one another these senses are and how easily they can mix. This is exactly what Sacks argues that metamodal is.
The precise concepts behind synesthesia and the metamodal are supported by neuroscience. As previously mentioned, neuronal connections in the brain enable it to function properly. However, once those connections cease to fire and innervate other neurons, the ability is lost. But Sacks explains that the neuroscience behind those who are blind and those who are able to see are quite similar. His thesis states that neurons are powerful creatures and when deprived of a function, they are able to migrate to other areas where their work is needed. In layman's terms, where one is not able to work, it will look around and find for another place where its services will be needed.
It is this exact neuroscience that the title the Mind's Eye refers to. As many of the individuals portrayed in this book will attest to, once their vision was lost, they found that they were able to increase the sensitivity of their other senses and were able to make up or compensate for their loss of vision. Lillian, the first blind individual introduced, was able to do just this. When she was unable to read the music that she had so effortlessly been able to do previous to her infliction by blindness, she was able to turn sound into vision. When she heard music she could see it. Her mind's ability to interpret one thing for another became her eyes. It is this story, among the others also portrayed in this book, that the title symbolizes.
Sacks implements a variety of rhetorical strategies in order to get his point across more clearly. This can immediately be seen in his own depiction of his blindness. He refers to the bright holiday of Christmas as being the darkest Christmas that he has known (Sacks, 81/137). This is irony to its fullest. As Christmas is seen as a bright and cheerful holiday, he describes his joy over the holiday, while acknowledging that darkness will be the only thing he feels. In itself, the cases presented in the book were paradoxical as well. Despite the fact that all of these individuals were blind, they were all able to see. Each of them found some sort of way to compensate for their loss of vision, so that they were able to visualize whatever it was that they wanted to. The mind served as their eyes. By envisioning objects, music, letters, colors, etc., they were able to find a vision within themselves.
Summary and commentary was used extensively as Sacks described the scenarios that each of the blind individuals were going through. Sacks summarized the individuals' lives in order to give the readers a background on what they were like previous to their affliction. By doing this, Sacks enabled the readers to not only see these individuals as people without a disability, but to possibly alert readers that these blind individuals once lead a life similar to those of "normal" people. In Sacks commentary, he…