I am reading Oliver Sacks’ “The Mind’s Eye” and I first want to say that I am fascinated and soothed by how Sacks talks about some of his patients – with humanity and empathy. It is difficult for me to explain how reassuring it feels to always be treated as a human being, who deserves respect and consideration: physical and mental issues can bend your life in unbearable ways, but the person, the “you”, should remain out of their reach.
(It sounds easy to say, and I feel I am not entitled to talk about it because on so many levels I am healthy and functioning; but as I have experienced how temporary malfunctions have hit me hard, I feel guilty for having been so weak, ungrateful and doubtful about my recovering potential, when others face permanent changes in their bodily abilities and fight so bravely.)
Back to the book. I started Chapter 5 “Stereo Sue” with expectation and curiosity. Sue (Susan R. Barry) grew up stereoblind without relevant difficulties, but at the age of forty her sight process worsened in a way that she seeked professional help, started vision therapy and surprisingly acquired stereo vision at 48 years of age – against all odds, because it was (is still?) commonly considered that stereo vision must be acquired within the first 3 years of life.
I was so touched by her story that I kept reading page after page, speechless, breathless. I cried when she described her old way of seeing the world and her former issues, because I recognised my daily life. Stereo blindness is not a rare condition: many people (5 to 10% of the population, according to Sacks) have grown up without acquiring stereo vision but developed a bunch of alternative ways of estimating depth and distance of the people and objects around them, and most live normal lives.
I am unsure of what to do. I must say that my stereo blindness interferes with several activities (driving a car, playing ball games are extremely difficult for me, among other things) but enhances others (drawing from real life is easier: I see it flat already, and I even guess how hard it is to draw for people who see in 3D!). However, I would hate to see myself as “in need to be fixed” and that stereo vision would bring me “closer to normal”. I am aware that I am missing a piece of functionality that most have, and that most make good use of, but I also feel that it’s not that crucial for me to get it too. I would hate to get stereo vision to get a step closer to how others perceive the world, just because my way of seeing the world couldn’t be understood.
Sacks himself lost stereo vision after an operation to his right eye, and considered it a net loss of functionality – that his perception of the world was changed for the bad and the false – I understand his conclusions, but they are not mine; I have always functioned differently, and that should have equal dignity. I was grateful to Sacks for his admiration for all the clever workarounds that Sue was putting in place – he admired her ability to use other senses and ways to compensate for an ability that most people give for granted.
I want to let these thoughts simmer for a while. I am for sure excited to discover that it’s possible for me to gain stereo vision, but I want to think well about the motivations that would lead me on that path. In the meanwhile I keep sketching.
2 thoughts on “Stereoscopic vision (lack thereof)”
Ciao Anne! I’m a big fan of Oliver Sacks too and I’m currently reading Awakenings. I remember that when I read the mind’s eye, I was convinced that I lacked stereo vision, because sometimes I cannot tell the position of objects in space that for other people are obvious. However, do you remember when we went in California in 2015 we went to a museum where there was a stereographic image that you could look at through a sort of binocular, I remember that I looked into it and the image built in my brain, though after some 10 seconds or so. So I realized that I’m not stereo blind but rather sort of stereo lazy 😉
I love the expression “stereo lazy” 🙂 it’s nice that you can experience this kind of vision, even if it takes more effort than usual!