Oliver Sacks on Facial Blindness

February 6, 2011

Oliver Sacks, the celebrated doctor who writes about some of the brain's strangest disorders.  His latest book, "The Mind's Eye," is a study of rare visual impairments caused by neurological disorders.  It's an unusually personal book for Sacks because it reveals his own struggle with a disorder called facial blindness.   Steve Paulson talked to Sacks recently about some case histories.



I don't know if my dogs recognize my face, but do know that birds can recognize human faces. At least seagulls can, a phenomenon which has been scientifically studied and established.

An article about this appeared in Natural History magazine many years ago detailing the methodology and the result. I don't keep my back issues nearly long enough to lay my hands on it, but I do recall the colorful way in which the scientist went about his experimentation: He was stationed at some remote location and with the help of a colleague and the use of masks they would behave in different ways toward the birds — generously, threateningly, etc. — in different dress, guises with faces covered or uncovered and so forth and were able to establish that the birds were able to recognize who was who on the basis of facial recognition alone.

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