Sue Barry didn’t realize she lacked 3-D vision until her early 20s, when she heard about studies of kittens with misaligned eyes in a college class. Barry had been cross-eyed in childhood, and had undergone three surgical attempts to align her eyes in their sockets. Although there had been signs that something was amiss — Barry had difficulty learning to read, for example, which caused a great deal of suffering in grade school — she was still floored to realize that she, like the kittens, could not see stereosocopically (in 3D). Worse, as her professor explained, no amount of surgery could give her this perception of visual depth and dimension, as it was thought to develop only at a “critical period” in early life.

Yet, at age 48, with the help of a developmental optometrist, Barry painstakingly re-trained her eyes to accurately align and send consistent visual information to her brain. And one day — it was no less than an epiphany — her world blossomed gorgeously into three dimensions. Barry, former director of the MBL Grass Fellows program and professor of neurobiology at Mt. Holyoke College, recently published a book about her experience, Fixing My Gaze, which has already sold out its first print run. Presently on a book tour, Barry stopped into the MBLWHOI Library’s Summer Salon Series last week to tell her story. It is both an inspiring personal odyssey and a moving testimony to the amazing plasticity of the human brain.

Sue Barry, author of Fixing My Gaze, leads her audience at the MBLWHOI Library Summer Salon in a simple demonstration of how the brain attempts to fuse inconsistent visual input from the two eyes into one image. Photo by Diana Kenney

Sue Barry, author of Fixing My Gaze, leads her audience at the MBLWHOI Library Summer Salon in a simple demonstration of how the brain attempts to fuse inconsistent visual input from the two eyes into one image. Photo by Diana Kenney