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To See or Not To See

By Oliver Sacks and reviewed by Seán, Tristram,

Molly, Fridge AKA K.O.G
 50 years of age
 He had poor eyesight as a child
 He was struck with a triple illness at the age of 3:
 Meningitis
 Polio
 Cat-scratch fever

 Blind for the past 40 years

 Thick cataracts in his eyes
 Small farmer in America
 Had an operation to remove them


Operation went ahead with no

Bandages were taken off and
“Virgil could see”
Is it really that easy??
Can we simply see again?
Was experience not needed?
Could a man that was born blind
learn the difference between a
sphere and a cube by touch,
then learn to see and perform
the same trick without touching
No doubt he could see, but what
So . . .
The first thing he saw was the
surgeon, but he couldn’t
understand what it was.
Only when the surgeon spoke did
he realise he was looking at a
He was “Agnosic”: mentally blind
At first 
Virgil could See but not perceive
He could Name colours(innate)
He got very excited by bright
His first trick was to pick up and
identify a roll of toilet paper
He could tell the time by the
clocks on the wall ?how?

He could write letters and
numbers. But sometimes he got
mixed up between the closer
letters like A and H.
Perception vs. sight
Perception: The psychological
process whereby the brain
makes sense of information
coming in through the senses.
Sight: The physical means by
which the eyes interpret the light
and send this info to the brain
using electrical currents via

What could he be suffering

Colour Anomia : Forgetting the

name of everyday objects

Colour Agnosia : cannot
understand what they are

A t first 
Couldn’t do a simple task like
playing with a Childs toy.
Couldn’t tell the difference
between the cat and the dog
without touching them.
Sensation has no markers.
e.g. a person who lived all their
lives in a dense rainforest was
moved into a large open field
they would try and reach out for
the hedges or the mountains.
Party tricks
After a few weeks he could do a
few things:
He could run up the
steps(which he feared at first)
put the key in the front door
and open it.
He had his single line around
the house that he followed to
get around(but if he deviated
from this line at all he would
become uncomfortable).

Similar patient found faces hard

to recognise , also the same with
Virgil at the zoo
Described animals by sound or
a single motion
 E.G. kangaroo jumping
Competent when describing
ape-posture ,knuckles , teeth

He tried to cheat by saying he
could see the TV but he was
actually only listening to the

Most recent test he was asked to
draw objects. The result was that
he only drew half the object

Unexplained periods of blurriness
(maybe because visual part of
brain being overloaded??)
Virgil occasionally suffered from
Antons syndrome, this is possibly
due to the great amounts of
stress placed on him since the

Like a baby
Virgil had to learn to see again.
Peoples bodies adapt to what
challenges are thrown at them
Sight can cause stress… leading
to depression.
“learning to see is not like
learning a new language, it is
like learning a language for the
first time”
Second operation
Slightly disappointing in that not
much improvement in the retina
that the right.
Vision improved slightly
He went back to work and
discovered the more shocking
side to seeing. He saw the
blemishes on the skin on other

He starts to develop a fear of
having to work as a normal man
again .E.G walking without his
During his Christmas holidays he
saw his mother for the first time
in 40 years.

After this Virgil's health starts to
deteriorate dramatically
He looses his sight again
He looses his job and house due
to his illness
Amy was in denial of him being
blind. so she gets him tested.
Results showed he was “Blinder

than he had been before his

Bob Wassermann re-examined
Virgil's retinas and found that it
was the cataracts that were
shielding his delicate retinas for
Paradoxically a release was given
a new second and final
blindness, finally at home in his
world of his other senses which
he knows best.

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