Archive for May, 2010
Event-wise, dozens of way cool talks at the World Science Festival will turn New York City into the world capital of science the first weekend of June. For tickets to events, including a conversation on face-blindness between Oliver Sacks, Chuck Close, and Robert Krulwich, check out the WSF site.
On the paper-and-ink front, we’re happy to announce Dr. Sacks’s debut as a contributor to Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, on newsstands now. His piece, “Colorado Springs Revisited,” is in great company–this issue also includes work by Richard Ford, Louis Menand, Morris Dickstein, Rachel Dickinson, Ryan Flaherty, and Dennis Lang. And that’s only the nonfiction; there are lots more poets, artists, and writers to boot!
Dr. Sacks just delivered the manuscript for his new book, The Mind’s Eye, to his publishers. Alfred A. Knopf will publish the book in the US on October 26, 2010. In the UK, Picador will publish on November 5th, and we also expect Dutch (Meulenhoff) and Brasilian (Companhia das Letras) editions in late 2010, with other translations to follow in 2011.
Check out the beautiful cover design here.
The Mind’s Eye tells the stories of people whose ability to navigate the world visually and to communicate with others is compromised. There is Lilian, a professional pianist who loses her ability to read music and eventually even to recognize everyday objects; and Sue, a neurobiologist who has never seen in three dimensions, until she suddenly acquires stereoscopic vision in her fifties. There is Pat, who, although she has aphasia and cannot utter a sentence, reinvents herself as a great gossip and social butterfly; and Howard, a prolific novelist who must find a way to continue his life as a writer even after a stroke destroys his ability to read. There are (surprisingly many) people who have face-blindness; some of them cannot even recognize their own spouse or children. And there is Dr. Sacks himself, who tells the story of his own eye cancer and the bizarre and disconcerting effects of losing vision to one side. Finally, Dr. Sacks looks at how blind people may use an astonishing array of other senses to “see” the world.
Writing, a cultural tool, has evolved to make use of the inferotemporal neurons’ preference for certain shapes. “Letter shape,” as Stanislas Dehaene writes, “is not an arbitrary cultural choice”—it is dictated by our neural proclivities.
The earliest written languages used pictorial or iconic symbols, which became increasingly abstract and simplified. There were thousands of distinct hieroglyphs in Egypt and tens of thousands of ideograms in classical Chinese; reading (and writing) such a language demands a great deal of training and, presumably, the dedication of a larger portion of the visual cortex. This, Dehaene suggests, may be why most human languages have tended to favor alphabetic systems.
And yet there may be certain powers, certain qualities peculiar to ideograms. Jorge Luis Borges, who was well versed in Japanese poetry, spoke of the multiple connotations of kanji ideograms in an interview:
“The Japanese have achieved a wise ambiguity in their poetry. And that, I believe, is because of their particular form of writing itself, because of the possibilities that their ideograms present. Each one, according to its features, can have several connotations. Take, for example, the word ‘gold.’ This word represents or suggests autumn, the color of leaves, or the sunset because of its yellow color.”
From The Mind’s Eye, Chapter 4.