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Neurologically Handicapped, Miraculously Reborn

Posted October. 15, 2005 07:52,   


Jonathan became a complete colorblind painter after a sudden car accident.

As he sat at the dining room table, a wave of nausea washed over him. Everything seemed like cement. The food was gray, and the mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup and jam all looked the same. His marriage was nonexistent. The sight of his wife’s gray body sent chills down his spine.

It wasn’t only his surroundings that turned gray like an old television screen. The world in his dreams was made of lead. All of his imagination and memories were even coated in a colorless slime.

But as time passes, he slowly begins to find peace in his heart. He accepts the reality of being colorblind.

He watches his first sunrise five weeks after the accident. The fiery crimson was instead ash-colored, making it seems like a nuclear explosion. “Has anyone else seen a sunset like this?”

He starts to feel the peculiar beauty of a whole new world. He is reborn biologically, mentally, and aesthetically. He’s becoming one of the congenital blind.

Two years pass, and he sees more clearly on foggy or dusky days, rather than during the bright noon. The privilege of seeing a stainless “distilled” world is his alone. The minute textures and details project in relief to him, something an ordinary person wouldn’t see with the façade of color.

Jonathan put his observations on canvass, and people say his drawings are unique and of a “remarkable black-and-white era.”

A world-class cognitive psychology authority, the author pursues the trail of a “high-dimensional change” in the brain’s processing. We get to take a look at the “other side of a disease” through patients with damaged nerves or senses, who were once desperate but achieve startling development and evolution.

“Disease, flaws, and handicaps are paradoxical. New organization and order is created through changed situations, reviving negatives to positives.”

In this book, seven “survivors” of nerve diseases appear. One has amnesia due to a brain tumor, and one doctor who bounces through hospital halls has “Tourette’s syndrome.” There is also a zoologist who believes that he is a “Martian anthropologist,” living with an alien race called the “human race.”

Virgil, who recovers his vision with surgery after 40 years, is a rare case.

If a blind person regains his vision, as the bible says, how would that feel?

“When the gauze came off and I turned my head at a sound, I saw ‘fog.’ It should have been a person’s face, since the sound had come from there, but I couldn’t recognize it.”

Since the surgery, he feels even more visually-challenged. Even if the retina and optic nerves sent signals, the brain didn’t interpret them. Light was a foreign language.

Because space and distance was imperceptible, walking without a cane was confusing and he toppled over at the sight of his own shadow. The corridors of the hospital even seemed like a gaping hole. Dogs and cats looked alike.

Virgil is like an exile kicked out of the touch-world into the sight-world. As a former blind person, sight is a hard handicap to endure for him.

One day, Virgil’s vision takes a wild ride, and in a matter of seconds, he is back to being a visually-impaired man; a “second loss of sight.” But it feels like a glorious ray of light.

“I was given permission to leave a world of blinding, clumsy light, and have returned to my place. It’s good to be home; my home for 50 years.”

Disease and handicap can be complex and paradoxical “gifts.” The mysterious imagination of nature surpasses the imagination of man.

Original title: “AN ANTHROPOLOGIST ON MARS (2005).”

Gi-U Lee keywoo@donga.com