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Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist's Journey Into Seeing in Three Dimensions Hardcover – May 26, 2009
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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)
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“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“[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.”
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The chapter sounds like music titles and the writing is done the same way -- easily flowing and easy to understand. Stereoblind, Mixed-up Beginnings, School Crossings, Knowing Where to Look, Fixing My Gaze, The Space Between, When Two eyes See as one, Nature and Nurture, Vision and Revision.
She tackles an extremely difficult situation and details it very well. To see in 3D is a gift for some and not for others. Stereo Sue's three dimension vision change shows that sometimes hard work, dedication, not taking no for an answer can all really pay off.
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. The human drama escalated as she went through frightening surgeries as a child (including an encounter with a deceptive anesthesiologist); as she experienced shock and disappointment at being exposed as stereoblind; as she had her vision problems dismissed by one ophthalmologist as a psychiatric disorder; as she experienced steropsis bursting out at her for the first time; as she gained steam and knowledge, recognizing the scientific, clinical, and human implications of her story; as she brought celebrity neuroscientists on board. And so it is a story of empowerment for Barry the patient, Barry the scientist, Barry the teacher, and Barry the instiller of hope.
I believe that Susan Barry has demonstrated for many of us that stereopsis is, indeed, important. I, for instance, was trained to believe that binocular vision and any advantage it afforded us wasn't that big a deal. Sure, I loved stereo viewers and all that... But as an undergrad at Berkeley in the early `80s, I recall a visit by Bela Julesz, of cyclopean vision fame. Two of my academic heroes, Russ and Karen De Valois rose to challenge Julesz, eventually (as I recall) suggesting that two eyes really aren't that much better than one. As I read Barry's book, as well as her descriptions of the consequences of her visual deficit, I realized that my early academic training (as a I had encoded it) was quite wrong. The book makes it clear that lack of stereopsis, and having two eyes that don't fuse images properly, has profound consequences for people like Barry (e.g., her driving, her energy level, and her sense of efficacy). Moreover, it is fair to say that Barry is an extraordinary observer of stereoscopic experience, and that she uses her newfound, developing perceptual ability to achieve scientific and clinical insights that are elusive to us who grew up with normal stereopsis.
One of the epiphanies for me was when I read and grasped the following paragraph: "Just as I could not imagine a world in stereo depth, an individual with normal normal stereopsis cannot experience the worldview of a person who has always lacked steropsis. This may be surprising because you can eliminate clues from stereopsis simply by closing one eye. What's more, many people do not notice a great difference when viewing the world with one eye or two. When a normal binocular viewer closes one eye, however, he or she still uses a lifetime of past visual experiences to re-create the missing stereo information."
People interested in stereopsis will find excellent coverage of the basic issues and the key scientific figures past and present (e.g., Wheatstone, Hering, Helmholtz, Eileen Birch, Shin Shimojo, Denis Levi, Uri Polat, Chris Tyler). It is nice, if not surprising, to learn that the already positive, cool Oliver Sacks played a positive, cool role in Susan Barry's story.
If you have strabismus or some other disorder of binocular vision, you will find what you need here. You will find out how to find an appropriate vision therapist. You will find extensive, understandable information about the theory and science of binocular vision. More importantly, you will learn in marvelous detail about the experiences and practices that can in some instances lead to acquiring stereopsis late in life. My guess is that vision therapy patients will use this book as a guide for years to come.
One last thing: I recommend listening to two NPR interviews (2006, 2009) featuring Sue Barry, as well as other key scientific figures in the story, including Sacks, Hubel, Levi, and, briefly, the heroic Theresa Ruggiero. The NPR programs are available online and go quite well with the book.
Two thumbs up! (one with uncrossed disparity; one with crossed disparity).