BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Tuesday, 22 August, 2000, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
All-seeing yet unseeing
Graham Young
Graham Young has "blind-sight"
A man with a brain capable of seeing things without him being aware of it, is helping scientists probe the nature of consciousness.

Graham Young suffered a head injury as a child which left a tiny region at the back of his brain damaged.

His experiences are described in the final episode of the BBC documentary "Brain Story" on Tuesday.

From that moment on, he has been unable to see anything on his right hand side, with both eyes equally affected.

Professor Weiskrantz
Professor Weiskrantz has been studying Graham
"I've lost all the vision to my right. I used to walk around town and walk into lamp-posts."

However, a visit to the opticians 15 years later revealed something remarkable going on inside his head.

Although he was not actually seeing anything, the sight test revealed that his brain was still processing information from the right hand side, even if he was unaware of it.

This is a condition called "blindsight", and Graham Young, because of the very specific and localised nature of his brain damage, is one of the most perfect examples of it in the world.

As a result, scientists from other countries are prepared to fly him around the world to use him in their experiments.

Other experiments was carried out by Professor Larry Wieskrantz of Oxford University: "Larry has damage restricted to the visual cortex and not to the rest of the brain, which makes him a much more pure case."

Brain activity
The brain works harder to produce conscious sight
He found that when Graham was shown tiny moving lights on a screen on his right hand side, although he was not aware of them, nine out of ten times he was able to "guess" which direction the lights were moving.

"I am completely unaware of anything happening in my right field, yet I get it right 90% of the time, which is a little bit weird. I don't know how I do it."

Brain scans revealed that when this unconscious process was going on, a primitive vision pathway was being used by the brain to communicate the information.

Normally, when he was processing vision signals and fully conscious of them, much more of the brain was in use.

Professor Wieskrantz believes that these different reactions could hold the key to a mystery which has puzzled brain scientists for many years.

Somehow your brain creates an inner world of experiences, memories and emotions called consciousness - but experts have little idea how.

Graham, a man whose brain sees things, but who has no consciousness of doing so, provides an interesting way of probing this.

"Brain Story" will be shown on BBC2 on Tuesday at 2100BST/2200GMT

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

15 Aug 00 | Health
The boy with half a brain
08 Aug 00 | Health
The man with two brains
01 Aug 00 | Health
The man who can't recognise faces
Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories