Rhetoric: The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks

Blind authors’ memoirs

Sacks, the author of the article, The Mind’s Eye, borrows most of his ideas from memoirs submitted to him by blind authors. Sacks’ first lesson about visualizing power among the blind is borrowed from the article, Touching the Rock an Experience of Blindness, by Hull who narrates his own experience in blindness. The article allows Sacks to understand that the blind lose their visualizing power. In this article, Hull describes his loss of sight, which started when he was about 17 years of age. Hull lost his left eyesight at the age of 17 years, and after 31 years later, he lost his right eye as well at the age of 48 years. Hull asserts that he gradually experienced attenuation of visual imagery and memory immediately after losing his sight. Two years after Hull lost his sight, he completely lost his visual imagery power to the extent that he lost the sense of different objects having distinct characteristics. Hull refers to the final stage of the loss of visualization power as “deep blindness.” The article suggests that acquired blindness may lead to complete loss of visual imagery power, just like inborn blindness. Initially, it was believed that only children are affected by the case mentioned above, but through reading the article by Hull, Sacks realizes that persons who lose their sight at adulthood face similar challenges.

Articles received later on by the author from blind authors further influenced Sacks’ knowledge on the blind people’s experiences. The articles seemed to contradict Hull’s account on adulthood blindness. When the author published Hull’s work, many blind people came out to describe their experiences. The majority of them communicated with the author through correspondences that expressed their feelings in response to Hull’s account. Most of these blind individuals claimed that even though they were completely blind, they lived in a visual world. One letter written by a blind person who claimed to have lost his sight at the age of 15 years indicated that persons who lose their sight at adulthood rarely lose their visual imagery. The person expressed that even though he had lost his visual power, he could visualize things in his darkness condition. The author of the letter expressed that he was comfortable in an environment he was familiar with since he could visualize and do things independently. He added that he was uncomfortable in a new environment as he could only accomplish much before he was fully oriented and adapted to the new environment. These correspondences changed the idea of loss of the visualizing ability, which was gained earlier from Hull’s article.

Another work that influenced the author’s understanding of the blind is the book, Out of Darkness, by Zoltan Torey. In the book, Torey asserts that he lost his sight at the age of 21 years following an accident at his place of work. The accident damaged his corneas. On examination, it was found that his corneas had been destroyed and the damage was irreparable. He was advised to forget about retaining his vision and instead focus on improving his auditory. Torey disagreed with his doctor’s advice, and instead, he opted to put extra efforts in visual imagery. In his state, he managed to accomplish certain projects with the most notable one being roofing his house without help from anyone. Torey used his visual imagery to accomplish tasks that seemed impossible for any blind person. From this book, the author was made to understand that loss of the visual imagery ability greatly depends on the individuals’ determination to exploit it. As opposed to Hull, who completely lost his visual imagery power only two years after becoming blind, Torey managed to develop his, and he used it to accomplish certain difficult tasks.

Another memoir that influenced Sacks’ knowledge on blindness is the book, My Path Leads to Tibet, by Sabriye Tenberken, who is also a victim of acquired blindness. From the book, Sacks learned that the blind retain the inner visualization ability as opposed to Hull’s account for the blind. The book is the most inspiring of all the three memoirs discussed above as it demonstrates the power of the blind regarding visualization. The book centers on the life of Sabriye Tenberken, who lost sight at childhood, but he has accomplished a lot despite his condition. From the book, it is evident that Tenberken has retained his visual imagery ability as proved by his accomplishments. Tenberken, being a resident of Tibet where the blind are lowly respected and dishonored, he has successfully managed to change people’s view of the blind and earned respect for the blind. He has successfully explored the country all alone using his visualizing power.

Also, he has established schools for the blind and changed the perception of the society about blindness. Tenberken is said to use his knowledge on colors to identify numerals and days of the week. He has different colors for different numbers with gold representing numeral 4 and vermillion representing numeral 9. Equally, he has different colors for months and days of the week, and through visual imagery, he can successfully distinguish between days and months. In his book, he describes an incident whereby he and his colleague had visited Nam Co, which is a salty lake in Tibet. Though he faced a different direction from the lake, he would picture a great salty stone under the lake in his mind. He could also see nomads grazing on the other side of the lake though none of them was real. The incident confirms an earlier memoir by Zoltan Torey that the blind retain the ability to visualize and see things in a certain special way in their minds.

Sacks’ additional understanding through anecdotal evidence supplied by other blind persons

In his attempt to acquire knowledge on the blinds’ visual imagery power, Sacks encountered many blind people who provided varying evidence regarding his question. One such person that Sack met is Dennis Shulman, who conceded to have been in the dark world for more than 30 years. Dennis disagrees with Hull’s account of the blind, and he claims to see his wife and children visually in his mind though, in reality, he has never seen them before. He adds that he visualizes himself just as he visualizes his wife and children.

Dennis is a lecturer of Biblical Topics, and despite the notes, he lectures on being Braille, he visualizes them in his mind as real notes. Sacks also interviewed with Arlene Gordon, who is an old woman at the age of seventies. The woman equally disagrees with Hull regarding the loss of the visualizing ability by the blind. Though living in the dark world, Gordon asserts that she visualizes her hands any time she moves them in front of her eyes. Also, the woman claims that she constructs legible sentences in her mind once she listens to book talks. The woman further asserts that she visualizes book talks and translates them into printed form in her mind and read the texts as if she had her sight intact. She adds that her eyes would feel tired if she listened to book talks for a long period, which is an indicator that she visualizes the text. The woman narrates an incident whereby she had visited Venice city with a friend. The woman, though blind, would visualize and see the city in her mind as her companion provided a brief description of the city’s appearance. The testimony by Dennis, coupled with the testimony by Gordon provided Sacks with enough anecdotal evidence to confirm that the blind people in the society live in a visual world.

Brain function is “meta-modal.”

By the statement that brain function is Meta modal and not fixed, Sacks implies that the brain is not partitioned at birth as earlier perceived by phrenologists. Ancient phrenologists claimed that the cerebral cortex, which is a component of the brain, is partitioned at birth with each part being assigned its unique roles. They asserted that damage of a part of the cerebral cortex would translate to the outright failure of the functions that it is meant to play. However, through research presented in his article, Sacks deduces that the brain is not fixed, and thus, it could be altered to suit the special needs of an individual. In this context, it is quite evident that brain functioning is not fixed. Most of the individuals interviewed have shown their ability to visualize things though they do not see them.

Sack’s thesis about the neuroscience of the sensory areas of the brain in both sighted and the blind

Sacks conclude that human beings, whether sighted and blind, have the ability to control their organs to suit their needs. His conclusion is that the brain function is not fixed and it can be manipulated depending on the situation. The blind develop the visualization power though they do not have the ability to see real objects. From the evidence garnered from reviewing articles provided to him by the blind, it is evident that visualization replaces the actual vision once a person acquires blindness. Sacks appreciate the importance of the brain regarding visualization, and thus, he titles his article “The mind’s eye.”

Rhetorical strategies used by the author

Throughout the essay, Sacks makes use of rhetorical strategies to illustrate his points and persuade the reader to approve his conclusions. He employs two different strategies in this essay, as shown below.


In exemplification, authors use facts and statistics to validate claims or back up arguments. Besides, the authors illustrate their points by giving examples. Similarly, Sacks’ conclusion on the issue is based on reasons and not assumptions. He makes use of deductive reasoning, whereby he starts with an impression that blindness deprives the victims of their visual imagery power. Sacks uses facts from blind people as they narrate their firsthand experiences. He analyses the article by Hull, but later on, in the essay, he discusses more articles that contradict Hull’s account. This way, he successfully explores reasons that support and contradict his statement, weighs them against each other, and makes a generalization based on evidence. Sacks excellently exploit this rhetorical strategy throughout his work. His arguments are based on reasons as opposed to propaganda or assumptions. In a bid to achieve this goal, he conducts interviews with the subjects to acquire firsthand evidence on the issue at hand. The author conducts one on one interview with Dennis Shulman and Arlene Gordon to make his arguments realistic. Evidence acquired from Dennis and Gordon is presented in the essay. The author uses direct quotations to represent the actual feelings of the interviewee without deviating from the subject matter. In a recap, the author relies on primary data, which has minimal chances of bias, and thus, it suffices to conclude that he uses exemplification as a rhetorical strategy.

Compare and contrast

In his essay, Sacks compares different articles to convince the reader on the credibility and reliability of his work. The author starts by analyzing Hull’s account on blindness. The article by Hull supports the perception that acquired blindness leads to complete loss of the visual imagery power, just like inborn blindness. However, the second and the third memoirs contradict the first article, but the author makes time to analyze each. The author is unbiased and accords each article equal importance. The aspect comparison and contrasting of the different articles and books from different authors give Sacks the opportunity to determine, which side of the available arguments as credible.