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Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist's Journey Into Seeing in Three Dimensions Hardcover – May 26, 2009

4.7 out of 5 stars 86 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Barry, a neuroscientist at Mount Holyoke College, was born with her eyes crossed and literally couldn't see in all three dimensions. Barry underwent several surgeries as a child, but it wasn't until she was in college that she realized she wasn't seeing in 3-D. The medical profession has believed that the visual center of the brain can't rewire itself after a critical cutoff point in a child's development, but in her 40s, with the help of optometric vision therapy, Barry showed that previously neglected neurons could be nudged back into action. The author tells a poignant story of her gradual discovery of the shapes in flowers in a vase, snowflakes falling, even the folds in coats hanging on a peg. After Barry's story was written up in the New Yorker by Oliver Sacks, she heard from many others who had successfully learned to correct their vision as adults, challenging accepted wisdom about the plasticity of the brain. Recommended for all readers who cheer stories with a triumph over seemingly insuperable odds. Photos, illus. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


From the foreword by Oliver Sacks

Fixing My Gaze is a beautiful description and appreciation of two very distinct ways of seeing… But it is also an exploration of much more. Sue is at pains not only to present her story, in clear and lucid, often poetic, language, but also, as a scientist, to provide understanding and explanation. She is in a unique position to do this, drawing on both her personal experience and her background as a neurobiologist….

Though Sue originally thought her own case unique, she has since found a number of other people with strabismus and related problems who have unexpectedly achieved stereo vision through vision therapy. This is no easy accomplishment. It may require not only optical corrections (proper lenses or prisms, for example), but very intensive training and learning—in effect, learning how to align the eyes and to fuse their images, and unlearning the unconscious habit of suppressing vision which has been occurring perhaps for decades. In this way, vision therapy is directed at the whole person: it requires high motivation and self-awareness, and enormous perseverance, practice and determination, as does psychotherapy, for instance, or learning to play the piano. But it is also highly rewarding, as Sue brings out. And this ability to acquire new perceptual abilities later in life has great implications for anyone interested in neuroscience or rehabilitation, and, of course, for the millions of people who, like Sue, have been strabismic since infancy.

Sue's case, and many others, suggest that if there are even small islands of function in the visual cortex, there may be a fair chance of reactivating and expanding them in later life, even after a lapse of decades, if vision can be made optically possible. Cases like these may offer new hope for those once considered incorrigibly stereo-blind. Fixing My Gaze will offer inspiration for anyone in this situation, but it is equally a very remarkable exploration of the brain's ability to change and adapt, and an ode to the fascination and wonder of the visual world, even those parts of it which many of us take for granted.”

Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures
“Essential reading for people interested in the brain.”

Eric Kandel, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine; author of In Search of Memory
Fixing My Gaze is a magical book, at once poetic and scientific, that holds out great hope for all of us. Here Susan Barry recounts her discovery that through training she could acquire, in adulthood, the three dimensional vision she lacked in all her early years. Barry, an excellent brain scientist, illustrates through her personal experiences and the fascinating science of vision that the brain is a marvelously plastic organ that can continue to change its wiring and thereby its function throughout our adult life.”

David H. Hubel, Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine; John Franklin Enders Professor of Neurobiology, Emeritus, Harvard Medical School
“It had been widely thought that an adult, cross-eyed since infancy, could never acquire stereovision, but to everyone’s surprise Barry succeeded. In Fixing My Gaze, she describes how wonderful it was to have, step-by-step, this new 3-D world revealed to her. And as a neurobiologist she is able to discuss the science as an expert, in simple language."

Brock and Fernette Eide, authors of The Mislabeled Child
“Beautifully written, deeply informative, and profoundly inspiring…Fixing My Gaze will appeal to anyone interested in the beauty of the nervous system, and should be required reading for every person involved with the education, behavior, and development of children.”

Michael Chorost, author of Rebuilt: How Becoming Part Computer Made Me More Human
“Fascinating and moving....Barry shows us that with healthy eyes and the simplest of tools, we can see the world in an entirely new way. Fixing My Gaze made me wonder: What new things could any of us see, if only someone told us it was possible?”

Dr. Leonard J. Press, Optometric Director, The Vision & Learning Center
“Barry’s story is seemingly about stereovision, but the depth she probes goes well beyond three dimensions. No one reading her fascinating account will ever look at vision the same way again.”

Richard L. Gregory, editor of The Oxford Companion to the Mind
“It is rare to gain stereoscopic vision if born without it, but Susan Barry reveals that it happened to her. Fixing My Gaze is the engaging story of her unusual adventure.”

Nigel Daw, Professor Emeritus of Ophthalmology and Neuroscience, Yale University; author of Visual Development
“Magnificent...It is not yet clear what percentage of patients may be like Barry, but Fixing My Gaze will encourage eye care practitioners to go ahead and find out, with definite benefits to their patients. Moreover, the book is fascinating reading.”

Publishers Weekly
“Barry tells a poignant story of her gradual discovery of the shapes in flowers in a vase, snowflakes falling, even the folds in coats hanging on a peg…. Recommended for all readers who cheer stories with a triumph over seemingly insuperable odds.”

Discover magazine
“Barry’s buoyant journey into stereovision is an eye-popping ride.”

“An exemplary and informative testimony to the probably lifelong plasticity of the brain.”

“Barry’s transformation captures the sometimes-indescribable nature of perception…. Her tour of the science behind her experience underlines the amazing precision of our senses – and how easily we can take them for granted.”

“A testament both to human physiology and spirit that permits someone to live with – and then change – a uniquely altered view of the world…. This book opens up the possibility that people can change their physical limitations, and that it is never too late to try.”

Optometry & Vision Development
“This book is a marvelous ode to what can be accomplished when doctor and patient encourage one another to aim higher and further.”

New England Journal of Medicine
“One axis of [Barry’s] book is a graceful and grateful appreciation of a newly acquired ‘ability to see the volume of space between objects and to see each object as occupying its own space’ – revelations that allowed her to live ‘among’ and ‘in’ the things of this world and gave her first movements of snow falling, trees branching, and a faucet arcing out of the sink…. The book’s main contribution, however, is exposing the wrong-headed dogma that acuity and binocular vision can be restored only during a critical developmental period.”

>Times Higher Education Supplement
“The book is a joy to read.”

Optometry and Vision Science
Fixing My Gaze provides a fascinating, informative, and beautifully written account of [Barry’s] acquisition of stereopsis after vision therapy at the age of 48 years…. Barry’s insights about her own vision provide wonderful insights into what it means to not have stereopsis, and the profound, life-changing effect of acquiring it.”

Stereo World
“In Fixing My Gaze, neuroscientist Susan Barry explains for the rest of us in fascinating detail just what a truly and completely ‘flat’ world is like to live in for 48 years.”

Nature Neuroscience
“[E]nticing…. [Barry] combine[s] a vivid and poetic account of her recovery with a detailed description of her treatment and the underlying science.”

The Journal of Clinical Investigations
“[A] fascinating account…. In addition to recounting her personal triumph, Barry clearly explains the visual and clinical science needed to understand the significance of this achievement…. [T]his engaging book will leave both readers knowledgeable in the field, as well as those just looking to understand something about the visual process, pondering what else there is left to see.”

Curled Up With A Good Book
“Barry’s book is great for anyone interested in learning more about the fascinating and complex biology of seeing, as well as those seeking hope and inspiration in overcoming a brain-centered disability thought to be incurable.”

“[C]ombines in an elegant way biography and science…. This is an excellent book.”


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (May 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465009131
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465009138
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #749,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Cook on May 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Do you have depth perception, that visual ability to judge what is closer and farther away?

If you are reading this review, the answer is yes. From the time of the Renaissance, artists have made use of cues for depth to endow their canvases with a sense of life: streets become narrower in the distance; subjects that are closer are also larger and overlap those that are behind; there is the slightest haze in the distance, a subtle indistinctness of form, a difference in shadow. These devices trick the mind into perceiving depth whether we have one eye or two.

There is a second, more vivid form of depth perception, however, which requires the use of two eyes. To experience it, try the following experiment: Hold your hand at a forty-five degree angle to your face about ten inches in front of your eyes and spread apart your fingers. Closing one eye at a time, view the hand first with one eye, then the other. You'll find that each view is different, that the fingers have different separations depending on which eye you use. Next, open both eyes and see how your perspective changes, how the fingers seem now to be separated by more air, how there is an increased sense of space. This two-eyed form of depth perception is called stereopsis. Those individuals who have a "crossed" or "wall-eye" (strabismus), rather than combining the two views into a three-dimensional percept, typically see one of the views while ignoring the other.

Dr. Susan Barry, a neuroscientist, and the author of FIXING MY GAZE: a Scientist's Journey in Seeing in Three Dimensions was one such individual. Her eye crossed when she was three months old.
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I ordered this new book just after meeting the inspirational Dr. Barry at this year's meeting of the Vision Sciences Society. The book arrived this last Friday and I spent the day reading it. I confess to be blown away by her story, as well as the scientific and clinical implications of her work. Add me to the list of people who loved the book!

Sue Barry's astonishing development of stereopsis at age 48 changed - profoundly - the way that many scientists (me included) view visual development and plasticity. Somehow we had tuned out, en masse, one hundred years of successes using vision therapy (including the extensive the work of Frederick Brock). The stuff of vision therapy was ignored, relegated to the fringes of sensible vision care. Instead, several generations of us took the Nobel Prize winning research of Hubel and Wiesel as gospel truth, going beyond the data by wrongly concluding (perhaps unlike the Nobel laureates) that stereopsis could only develop during a critical period during infancy. It took Barry, a well-established neuroscientist and keen observer, to bring us to our senses.

And yet now, having read her new book, I see that the story is much deeper and profound than I thought. First off, she's a very entertaining storyteller in her own right.
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If you see double or if you have(had) an eye(s) turn, you should try the Brock string. Barry writes, "When I learned to use the "Brock string," I received the feedback that I needed to know where my eyes were pointing and then to redirect them so that they were aiming simultaneously at the same point in space." (p. 90) My guess is that Barry believes this was the single most important exercise of her visual therapy.

The Brock string is a simple setup. Tie a string to a knob, hold the other end to the bridge of your nose. If you put a bead or clip about a foot or so from your nose, you'll see an X as you look down the string to where the bead resides. How you see the X, what you can do with it, and whether you can easily move the juncture point of the X along the string...all of that is the stuff of some visual training which worked for Barry.

I have a childhood history of visual therapy (I'm now 66). I did not use the Brock string, because I guess my therapists didn't know about it. But, I did many, many other exercises. I remember many of them from Barry's descriptions. There is, however, one she doesn't talk about. It involves holding a straw at arms length and feeding a pickup stick held with the other hand into hole at the end of the straw. It's harder than it sounds, even if you are not visually impaired. Now, put on a set of prisms that disjoints and distorts the visual field, and the rapidly-put-the-pick-into-the-straw game becomes even better (read that harder--harder is what visual therapy is all about.)

Physical therapy worked for me; were you to look at me you'd never realize that my gaze is a bit cocked. Some might also argue that it didn't work; it converted a situation of a right eye turn into seeing double.
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