A neurobiologist reexamines the personal nature of perception in this groundbreaking guide to a new model for our senses.
We think of perception as a passive, mechanical process, as if our eyes are cameras and our ears microphones. But as neurobiologist Susan R. Barry argues, perception is a deeply personal act. Our environments, our relationships, and our actions shape and reshape our senses throughout our lives.
This idea is no more apparent than in the cases of people who gain senses as adults. Barry tells the stories of Liam McCoy, practically blind from birth, and Zohra Damji, born deaf, in the decade following surgeries that restored their senses. As Liam and Zohra learned entirely new ways of being, Barry discovered an entirely new model of the nature of perception. Coming to Our Senses is a celebration of human resilience and a powerful reminder that, before you can really understand other people, you must first recognize that their worlds are fundamentally different from your own.
Neurobiologist Barry (Fixing My Gaze) explores sight, hearing, and perception in this triumphant survey of people who gained a sense they were born without. She spotlights three individuals: Zohra Damji, who was born deaf and received a cochlear implant at age 12; Liam McCoy, who was born with albinism and lived in "a cocoon of visual blur" until he had intraocular lenses inserted into his eyes at age 15; and Barry herself, who was cross-eyed and stereoblind until age 48, when surgery allowed her to see with both eyes. Barry examines the science behind how senses work (describing the workings of the human eye, for example), and how limitations in perception (both before and after surgery) inspired individual adaptations: McCoy still prefers to navigate some situations with a white cane, while Damji faced challenges because her implants weren't as sensitive to pitch and timbre as the human ear. Barry skillfully balances scientific explanations with empathetic stories of how senses shape the human experience: "To ask the blind or deaf to acquire a new sense past childhood is to ask them to reshape their identity." This powerful tale is as thoughtful as it is informative.