Monday, June 26, 2006

Someone Else's News: Changing How You See

I heard this story on my way in to work this morning: Going Binocular. You may be familiar with Oliver Sacks, having read his books (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) or seen movies adapted from his books ("Awakenings", "At First Sight"). Well he has a tangential role in this story of a woman born cross-eyed who had spent much of her life seeing monocularly (rather than binocularly, as most of us do).
I don't want to recap the whole story for you (after, NPR did a really nice job already), but I just want to touch on some things. (So, go read/listen to the story and then come back, how about). Anyone who has taken a psychology or neuroscience course has probably heard the story of the cross-eyed kittens (kittens born cross-eyed, are unable to see binocularly even after surgery). It is one of those things that is fascinating from a nature/nurture perspective.
But the story of Susan Barry is also interesting from a perspective of adaptability. She spent fifty years seeing monocularly, and until she hit college she had no idea she was seeing differently than other people. Barry drove, worked as a professor, and did all these things with no apparent difficulty.
And then of course, she met a wonderful doctor who didn't say - no, it's too late to help you. Or why would you want to try to change it now. But, sure let's try this. And...it worked! And Barry discovered that things really do look different in stereo. (Remember that thing they would have you do as a kid where you stuck your thumb in front of you and then looked at with both eyes, and then each eye separately. To over-simplify, Barry was looking at the thumb with one eye at a time.)
So, I started my day today with great thoughts about adapting, coping, perceptions, our ability to change, and the beauty of seeing a snowfall with both eyes at the same time.

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