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Damasio, Professor Antonio - Anton Babinski syndrome



Type of Spiritual Experience


Blind sight – the ability to ‘see’ even when you may have damaged eyes or a broken optic nerve or a damaged occipital cortex is one of the most controversial abilities from the medical profession’s point of view – because simply by considering the brain and not the mind they cannot explain it.  Because they cannot explain it, they say it is impossible.

Anton–Babinski syndrome is one example of this ability.  The blindness is caused by brain damage occurring in the occipital lobe. People who suffer from it are "cortically blind", but “affirm, often quite adamantly and in the face of clear evidence of their blindness, that they are capable of seeing” – notice the medical language here implying the person cannot possibly be seeing because it is technically  - using only the brain as the mechanisms and not the mind -  impossible.

The syndrome was named by  Gabriel Anton and Joseph Babinski.  It can occur after a person has had a stroke and also may occur after head injury.

First neurologist Macdonald Critchley:

The sudden development of bilateral occipital dysfunction is likely to produce transient physical and psychical effects in which mental confusion may be prominent. It may be some days before the relatives, or the nursing staff, stumble onto the fact that the patient has actually become sightless. This is not only because the patient ordinarily does not volunteer the information that he has become blind, but he furthermore misleads his entourage by behaving and talking as though he were sighted. Attention is aroused however when the patient is found to collide with pieces of furniture, to fall over objects, and to experience difficulty in finding his way around. He may try to walk through a wall or through a closed door on his way from one room to another. Suspicion is still further alerted when he begins to describe people and objects around him which, as a matter of fact, are not there at all. Thus we have the twin symptoms of anosognosia (or lack of awareness of defect) and confabulation, the latter affecting both speech and behaviour”.

What Critchley has described is a vision and the totally blinded do get visions.  But what he has not said is that sometimes people do not collide with pieces of furniture or fall over objects or try to walk through doors and walls, occasionally they are able to ‘see’ these things and navigate successfully – not always, but enough times to make their case very special  - to a neurologist of course these cases are simply dismissed because they don’t fit into the ‘brain/hardware’ model they understand.  They can’t explain it, so they ignore it or call it ‘patient confabulation’. 

Some scientists are a bit more open to possibilities

A description of the experience

Professor Antonio Damasio – The Feeling of What Happens

Something along the same lines can happen in similarly blind patients when the damage to visual cortices is especially extensive, in a situation known as Anton’s syndrome.  The patients may deny …. that they are blind, ……. 

The patient’s eyes remain capable of verting toward objects that are attractive to a visual organism and remain capable of focusing on them. 

The results of the efforts of that now useless visual perceptual machinery are of no consequence to the visual cortices themselves but are conveyed nonetheless to structures such as the superior colliculi and the parietal cortices. 

The brain is still informed of the ongoing set of perceptually related adjustments, probably not unlike those that would occur should the brain still be capable of visual processing

The source of the experience

Damasio, Professor Antonio

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps