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Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist's Journey into Seeing in Three Dimensions [Paperback]

Oliver Sacks , Susan R. Barry
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

19 Aug 2010
This is a profoundly smart science book and an inspiring memoir about change that is detailed and complex, quirky and engaging. Readers will connect with Sue's struggles, discoveries, and triumphs. When neuroscientist Susan Barry was fifty years old, she took an unforgettable trip to Manhattan. She saw the city in an astonishingly new way. With each glance, she experienced the deliriously novel sense of immersion in a three dimensional world. Barry had been cross-eyed and stereoblind since early infancy. Scientists have long believed that the brain is malleable only during a 'critical period' in early childhood, and that there was no way she could begin to see in three dimensions. But after intensive training, she was able to accomplish what other scientists and even she herself had once considered impossible. A revelatory account of the brain's capacity for change, "Fixing My Gaze" describes Barry's remarkable journey and celebrates the joyous pleasure of our senses.

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Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist's Journey into Seeing in Three Dimensions + How Behavioral Optometry Can Unlock Your Child's Potential: Identifying and Overcoming Blocks to Concentration, Self-Esteem and School Success with Vision Therapy
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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition (19 Aug 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465020739
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465020737
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 14 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 130,346 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


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 t --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Susan R. Barry is a professor of neurobiology in the Department of Biological Sciences at Mount Holyoke College. She speaks regularly to scientists, eye doctors, and educators on the topic of neuronal plasticity. She lives in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book 23 July 2009
I wish this book was available 15 years ago when I first realised that I was stereoblind and don't experience the world in the same way as other people. This book has answered so many mysteries for me - things no one ever bothered to explain to me, things I was too scared to ask and problems that I never thought were related to my vision - thank you Susan
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"Fixing my gaze" is a wonderfully written book that combines scientific knowledge with personal experience. It is easy to understand which makes it a pleasant read for anybody in the subject.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Facinating. 23 Sep 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Having discovered, at the age of 47, that I am stereoblind I was keen to find out more about my condition. This is a facinating and informative book written in an easy going accessable style. There are copious notes and links to aid you in further reading around the subject and also the hope, should you choose to persue it, that it is not always too late to achieve stereo vision.
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56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Expanding Consciousness Through Vision 20 May 2009
By David Cook - Published on
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. Three surgeries between ages two and seven cosmetically straightened her eyes, but-as is frequently the case-the surgeries did not restore the brain's ability to combine the information from the two eyes. Sue's doctors, basing their opinions on the science of the day, assured her that she would never develop stereopsis.

The story of "Stereo Sue" regaining her depth perception at age 50 and astonishing the medical community was first told in a 2006 article by Oliver Sacks in a New Yorker. FIXING MY GAZE, however, is far more than a fleshing out the Sacks article. The book is a touching and sometimes lyrical tale of perseverance in overcoming obstacles. It's an excellent resource on Optometric Vision Therapy, the treatment through which Sue regained her vision. It's a wonderful overview of the science and neuroscience underlying the perceived changes. Most importantly, it's the best book ever written about how subjective experience changes during the journey from one-eyed to two-eyed seeing.

The story is completely accessible to nonscientists, the more technical discussions appearing in over fifty pages of endnotes, including copious references. As for who will benefit from or enjoy the book, there are many possible audiences: 1) Those who like well written success stories that also increase their understanding of the world. 2) Those who have ever had strabismus (a condition in which an eye turns in toward the nose or out towards the ear)-whether or not the condition has been "corrected" surgically. 3) The parents of those with strabismus.
4) Those who feel their own vision makes life more difficult. 5) Those with an interest in psychology or the brain. 6) Those doctors, whether ophthalmologists, optometrists or pediatricians, who profess to care for patients with strabismus. And finally (7), those who have pondered the topic of human consciousness: Sue, a neuroscientist, knew practically everything there was to know about stereopsis, but her world and joy of seeing changed profoundly when she experienced stereopsis. To share the excitement and insights of that change, read this outstanding book.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Story, Great Science, Instills Hope 24 May 2009
By David H. Peterzell - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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. 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).
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Brock String 30 Aug 2009
By William C. Scheel - Published on
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. For the most part, this has never really bothered me. Perhaps I've just successfully learned to fake stereopsis. I'm able to substantially suppress the image of either eye when I want to. I have no problem seeing or at least judge depth at any distance. Fusion? Impossible. I long ago gave up. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a rerun of visual therapy using the Brock string.

Barry's book is a must-read for anyone who has gone through some type of visual therapy. It also is a must read for a parent of a child with this type of visual impairment. But, such a read should not conclude that visual therapy is to be preferred over eye surgery for the very young. And, such a read should not necessarily conclude that you too can do what she did. But, such a read certainly will make you want to try to fix your gaze.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fixing My Gaze - Inspirational and Life changing! 26 Jun 2010
By Tony - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have suffered from Congenital strabismus all my life, I had 2 surgeries as a young infant and underwent some vision therapy in early life from my recollection, however, like most strabismics, I never developed bionucularity or stereopsis. As a child/teenager I was never good at ball sports, particularly small ball sports and never knew why, I always thought I was just naturally poor at most sports, which was hard socially and psychologically for me at the time. It wasn't until my teen years when my eyes began to turn again that I realised there was a problem. A routine eye exam in early high-school picked up my monocularity, however I was told not to worry as I had good vision in both eyes and what I lacked wasn't so important. Not fully understanding this at the time I went on with life as normal, into my late 20's/ early 30's my eye turn began to get worse to the point that it became cosmetically distracting and people would look at me differently and some would make comments and ask questions, so at the age of 34 I decided it was time for my 3rd surgery to realign the eyes once more. At this point I also began to research the topic of strabismus and stereopsis and after failing fusion and stereopsis tests conducted by my opthamologist, I set out to see what can be done to correct this. Coming across Sue's book and lectures on youtube gave me the inspiration to pursue the same course of treatment she underwent. My eyes are now almost normally aligned, just a little off horizontally/vertically, after surgery and I have begun vision therapy with a developmental optometrist just as Sue did. To my surprise using the brock string has made a huge difference so far! I can see the "x" when I cross my eyes!(which has required alot of effort to learn) and as a result I am now getting better at fusing both images with effort! Hopefully in time this will develop further and also potentially unlock/develop redundant bioncular areas in my visual cortex and help me experience the wonderful world of stereopsis as it did for Sue!

This book is a MUST read for any adult with congenital strabismus and monocular vision! It brings hope for all those individuals affected by this condition by outlining Susan's path to depth-perception/stereopsis after close to half her life was spent viewing the world with monocular vision. Susan's story is an enjoyable read and explained in a way that even non-medically minded individuals will understand. I rate this book very highly!
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspired to pursue vision therapy 27 Jun 2009
By Susanna Zaraysky - Published on
WOW! I am now even more inspired and motivated to pursue binocular vision therapy! I first read about Susan Barry's 3D journey in the New Yorker magazine three years ago. Before that, I didn't know that my being born cross-eyed made me only see in 3D. I owe it to both Prof Barry and Dr Oliver Sacks for having made me aware of my vision.

While reading "Fixing My Gaze", I sometimes felt like I was reading my own story. Those of us with strabismus have suffered from our lack of depth perception in similar ways. We hate merging in traffic and parallel parking is hard for us to gage.

The proximity of her story to my own made me cry at times and have to put the book down to digest her pain and remember my own.

For the past three years, I've done some vision therapy, but have not been consistent. After reading about Prof Barry's renaissance with her newfound abilities, I am motivated to be a serious student of binocular vision therapy.

At some point in her moving memoir, Barry says that those with 3D vision and those with 2D vision speak different languages. I feel that by viscerally identifying with her 2D life and appreciating her 3D discoveries, that I'm able to understand a little of the 3D world to which I am currently blind.

Thank you for being my bridge!


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