Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Crowds: What Luck

Today on the subway I was reading about 'the man who mistook his wife for a hat,' a.k.a. Dr. P (this man's neurological condition was first discovered and documented by neurologist Oliver Sacks, but I read about it in Jonah Lehrer's book Proust was a Neuroscientist).  

Anyway, in the chapter that explains the phenomenon of sight, Lehrer explains that light enters the retina in a series of lines and then gets processed through the visual cortex of the brain, which ends up producing what most people know to be a clearly identifiable image.  But, due to a cortical lesion, "Dr. P's eyes received virtually no input from his brain.  He saw the world solely in its unprocessed form, as labyrinths of light and masses of color," (108).  This is why, when reaching out for his hat, Dr. P made the mistake of grabbing his wife's face.

I was thinking about this strange condition after getting off the subway in Union Square, while pushing through crowds as thick as Porterhouse steak trimmings.  Making my way through this blockage was challenging enough, but then I thought: what if everything around me just suddenly turned into blobs of light and color?

It would be impossible for me to live in New York.  

I think the next time I'm cursing the inconsiderate masses under my breath while fighting for my own little piece of the sidewalk, I'll remember Dr. P and remind myself that I should feel so lucky to even see a piece of sidewalk worth fighting for.  In the long run, I'd much rather be in a position to dodge annoying people than to inadvertently reach out and grab their faces.

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