None so Blind by Haldeman, Joe, 1994

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None so Blind is one of those great tales of forced intelligence gains. It is a process story that is told from an omniscient point of view about a loner genius who fell in love with a loner prodigy and changed the world. In it Cletus, a tubby, brilliant and socially awkward boy fell in love with Amy, a blind and awkward violinist. As he got to know her better, and as his studies progressed, he started to wonder why all blind people were not brilliant. Cletus was young, but he had degrees in medicine, neurology, physics, optics and a few other areas of study, so he was certainly the right person to ask the question. Cletus knew that most of the mass of the average brain was given to processing space for data that came in through the optic nerves; we do get many of our cues from vision, after all. So Cletus wondered why some people with a disability were more likely than average to have heightened abilities in another area.

Of course there have always been great thinkers and writers and composers who were blind (and in the twentieth century, some painters to whom eyesight was irrelevant), and many of them, like Amy with her violin, felt that their talent was a compensating gift. Cletus wondered whether there might be a literal truth to that, in the microanatomy of the brain. It didn't happen every time, or else all blind people would be geniuses. Perhaps it happened occasionally, though a mechanism like the one that helped people recover from strokes. Perhaps it could be made to happen.

It was a question of just how neuroplasticity worked. In other words, why was it that some people's brains were able to rewire when one sensory input was deficient, and why was it that not everybody could do it. Cletus spent most of his adult life working on the problem, and when he thought he had figured out why, he hired a straw man to offer his wife optical implant surgery so that she could see again. When she eventually accepted the offer, Cletus stepped in and performed his operation, gave Amy the ability to use all of that fallow gray matter, and changed the world.

The one problem with this story is that in some part it relies on the scientifically inaccurate concept that humans only use a portion of their available brain's processing power, although it does discuss the issue with a fresh voice. Ordinarily with this type of story the author delivers a scientist who performs an operation or procedure on someone with no disability and gives them the power to access all parts of their brain, including the missing 30%, or whatever it is. Here Haldeman makes no such claim, but does say that with the blind there must necessarily be some underused portion of the brain, because humans ordinarily are so dependent on sensory input from the eyes, and in doing so harkens back pretty close to that old way of viewing things. Different enough, I suppose, and not hackish in any sense of the word. But I read this story two days ago, and I have not been able to stop thinking about the super-science roots of this one. Three out of five stars.

Copyright 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)


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