The mind’s eye

Seeing with My Eyes Wide Shut Perception is one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind. Building from the last essay on “The Eyes of the Skin” we can conclude that to absorb all our surroundings we need to use our senses in conjunction with one another. But what happens when we lose our sense of vision? We are required to compensate for this sensory loss through a better understanding and utilization of our other senses. Sacks in his essay “The Mind’s Eye: What the Blind see” has done just so.

He recalls various accounts of people who have lost their sight at some point of time in their life and how they’ve coped to not only deal with their loss but far better themselves. Sacks main point of clash in his essay is whether the brain is plastic and could be mouldable or whether it’s predestined and can’t be moulded later on in life. The jist of the Eyes and the Skin is that the world is ocular centric and there’s an unhealthy hegemony towards vision. These two essays are intricately interconnected in the fact that both speak of a fuller understanding of the world around us through a fuller utilization of our senses.

Sacks starts out with Hull’s account and how Hull not only managed to cope with the trauma of blindness later on in life but he used it as a catalyst to further improve his other senses. “He seemed to regard this loss of visual imagery as a prerequisite for the full development, the heightening of, of his other senses. ”(305) After Hull became visually impaired he started depending more heavily on his other senses. His ocular centric world faced a challenge (it might even be considered to be nonexistent) and he rose to it.

The disability helped him in learning the true potential of his auditory impulses and he saw the world through his ear. He could correlate the raindrops to the garden, bushes and pavement and in the process opened himself up to a whole new world. This could be compared to Pallasmaa’s text wherein he states that approaching the world through a singular sense is unjust and doesn’t give us the complete picture. Instead, he advocates that we need an all round understanding of our senses to truly interact with the spaces around us. In Hull’s case the ‘deeper blindness’ (305) brought about a shining light in the way he lived his life.

Hull is used as an exception to the status quo throughout the essay wherein he’s the only soul to have been able to modify his actions and interactions to suit his late in life visual impairment. Hull goes on to say that because of this deep blindness he’s become more fluent, stronger and a better writer. He interacted with his environment in new ways by capitalizing on his other senses and totally drowning out his sense of vision. Hull’s case could be incorporated with Pallasmaa’s text where he mentions “hearing creates a sense of connection and solidarity” (289).

The completeness that Hull experiences is a direct result of the feeling of interiority that sound accompanies and with a far better developed understanding of acoustics, was able to tackle the world. The next case that Sacks introduces is that of Torey’s. In Torey’s case he experiences blindness relatively early in his life and doctors had advised him to switch to an auditory mode of communication. But he refused to give up his vision readily and fought strongly back instead developed an ‘inner eye’ (306). This inner eye was to be his outlet into the visual world which he wasn’t ready to give up.

He construed images so real in his mind that they seemed real, intense, life like. A possible explanation to this could be the fact that Torrey did spend his childhood in a picturesque country side and read scripts that his father had penned. Torey was aware that his mind could go haywire and hallucinate so he backed up all the input in his mind’s eye with scientific knowledge. His power of imagery grew stronger with this blindness. From Pallasmaa’s text we can draw that an individual experiences a building or the environment around him by an integration of all the senses.

Our auditory senses help us to interact with a building and music occupies the empty space. Similarly our olfactory senses awaken a forgotten image and bring a vivid image to life. So an individual experiences the environment through a collection of senses. The next case that Sacks adopts is that of Tenberken. Tenberken grew up in a rugged environment and always believed in the practical aspect of things. She loved art and colour and had disposition to synaesthesia, i. e. she would see certain numeral in a certain colour. This resulted from the fact that a stimulus in one sense triggered a response in another.

And this synaesthesia was further complemented by her blindness. She didn’t bother about the technical detail of her vision though; she was just interested in absorbing as much as she could. She had an artistic imagination and didn’t require everything being precisely accurate. Next Sacks introduces Shulman, a man who gradually loses his vision by the time he reaches college. He says that even after thirty five years of blindness he can still see vivid visual memories. He states that while reading Braille, the texts don’t appear as a tactile sense but rather as a visual image.

Arlene Gordon had been blind for over thirty years yet she could ‘see’ herself moving her arms back and forth. She created images in her mind of all her surroundings, and the interplay the senses have in her surroundings. “There is increasing evidence from neuroscience for the extraordinary rich interconnectedness and interactions of the sensory areas of the brain, and the difficulty, therefore, of saying that anything is purely visual or purely auditory, or purely anything. ”(310). In Sacks’ opinion there’s increasing evidence that proves that the different lobes of the brain are linked up to one another.

And this link up would result in no single sense being independent of the other; rather the senses would have to work in tandem to produce the response we have to our surroundings. This fits into Pallasmaa’s central dogma that the world shouldn’t be ocular centric when viewing a piece of architecture. If we just perceive a building with our eyes then we’re only absorbing the visual part of the experience but if we immerse all our senses together, in tandem, then we actually get to experience everything around us.

Sacks brought up the case of the French Resistance fighter Lusseyran next. Lusseyran went blind when he was eight years old, so while he had a rich visual experience he wasn’t suited into any habits that would be difficult for him to overcome. He stopped caring about how people looked, their faces, pigmentation, etc. He didn’t want to spend time observing these “empty things” (311). Just like Torrey, Lusseyran begins to use an ‘inner eye’. His inner eye consisted of a screen upon which whatever he thought was projected.

The screen never had a fix sized and could adapt to what Lusseyran was thinking. And this screen didn’t telecast in black and white, instead it projected the world in colour and Lusseyran’s min became a painter’s workshop. Lusseyran was against “despotism” (313) and “the idol worship of sight” (313). In these lines we can almost see Pallasmaa and Sacks interchanging dialogue. Lusseyran’s statements go hand in hand with Pallasmaa’s theory of challenging the hegemony of the eye. Lusseyran feels that blindness brought about deeper modes of perception in the other senses.

And Pallasmaa’s ideals complement Lusseyran’s idea. According to Pallasmaa there has been an unhealthy hegemony of the eye over the other senses in the field of architecture and the world in general and this is an issue that needs to be addressed. And the only way of addressing it is to use our senses proportionately. In the case of blindness, the other modes of sense need to make up for the loss of vision. Now Torrey, Tenberken, Shulman and Gordon took active steps to keep their visual imagery and memory intact whereas Hull gladly disposed away with it.

This consequently led to Hull assuming a submissive role due to his disease and perhaps this is why he is the only one in the group to experience hallucinations. Torrey was always a visual person who drew from his father’s scripts, Tenerberken and Lusseyran were artistically inclined and Gordon and Shulman were adamant in maintaining their visual cortex. They each based the way they experienced the world from past experiences. Torrey was determined to not let blindness overcome him, Lusseyran was governed by his bodily processes and the others lied somewhere in between.

Hull’s case was still challenging the status quo and hence, mysterious. Individuals may use various forms of perception to experience the world around them. But it essentially boils down to the fact that all the senses and the intellectual and emotional designs are fused together with individual perception. In ‘The Eyes of the Skin’, Pallasmaa isn’t saying that sight is bad but an over-dependence on it may prove harmful. He propagates of a world where we don’t just look at a building but we feel, touch, smell and taste it too. Only by engaging all our senses would we be able to perceive our surroundings.

Similarly, Sacks’ point of differentiation between Hull and Torrey may not bear consequence because the unified fused vision is what shines out. One might have tended towards “non-visual” (317) while the other towards “hyper vision” (317). The paths they followed might have been different but through their individual paths they realized their creative potential and achieved a fuller realization of their surroundings. They used different implements to perceive, but in the end they were both successful in perceiving their respective environments.

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