Oliver Sacks on Facial Blindness

February 6, 2011

Sacks had a particular fascination with the ways our brains can play tricks on our vision. He also reveals his own lifelong struggle to recognize the faces of other people.



I don't know if my dogs recognize my face, but do know that birds can recognize human faces. At least seagulls can, a phenomenon which has been scientifically studied and established.

An article about this appeared in Natural History magazine many years ago detailing the methodology and the result. I don't keep my back issues nearly long enough to lay my hands on it, but I do recall the colorful way in which the scientist went about his experimentation: He was stationed at some remote location and with the help of a colleague and the use of masks they would behave in different ways toward the birds — generously, threateningly, etc. — in different dress, guises with faces covered or uncovered and so forth and were able to establish that the birds were able to recognize who was who on the basis of facial recognition alone.