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Looking out on the world

The Mind's EyeOliver Sacks looks at sight and disorders of vision in this book. I was pleased to find that his customary relating of his patients’ stories,and the differing and intriguing ways in which they are sometimes able to compensate for neurological damage or malfunction, seemed somehow more engaged and less dry than his book on the perception of music ‘Musicophilia’

However it wasn’t until I was a way through the book that I realised why this might have been the case – it was whilst he was writing that previous book that he was diagnosed with a tumour in his eye, and was writing and correcting this book whilst not knowing if he was going to lose sight in that eye – or indeed, survive.

For me, the most fascinating ‘stories’ were Sacks’ own, as of course the understanding that any disorder is much more than an interesting piece of medical history, but is LIVED by the person who experiences it, comes clearest when the sufferer describes it from the inside.

The chapter on ‘faceblindness’ , prosopagnosia, which Sacks also suffers from, is particularly fascinating. It is a more common condition than is realised. Most of us, if someone repeatedly failed to recognise us, might either think that person totally self-obsessed, or fear that there might be something terribly lacking in ourselves, that we Oliversacksare so unmemorable. Either way, it might make us regard the person who doesn’t recognise us a little less warmly. Conscious of their difficulty in remembering and recognising faces, and perhaps being slightly shunned or criticised for this, its possible that many cases of extreme ‘shyness’ may in fact not be a personality disorder at all – but a neurological disorder.

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