"Esref Armagan, of Ankara, Turkey, is a 53-year-old blind painter. Blind since birth, Armagan is a gifted visual artist who can draw and paint in three dimensions; drawing comparisons to Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi, the first artist to master three point perspective.
Armagan paints houses, boats, birds and butterflies, even though he's never actually seen any of these things. He paints with lively colours and has even learned to draw in perspective, yet his brain has never detected hue, light or shadow. Over the years, Armagan developed his own methods for creating his artwork and no one has taught him or described what techniques to use. He started with pencil and paper, and by 18 he was painting with his fingers, first on paper, then on canvas with oils. Nowadays, he works primarily with fast-drying acrylics. After displaying his work at more than 20 exhibitions in Turkey, Holland, the Czech Republic and China, Armagan's disarmingly realistic work and his abilities have revolutionized our knowledge of how much congenitally blind people can understand about the layout of space.
Dr. John Kennedy, a psychologist and Director of Life Sciences at the University of Toronto, researches the psychology of perception and cognition in both sighted and blind people. He put Armagan through a battery of tests in which he successfully drew a series of solid objects, including a cube, in three-point perspective. Further tests, at Harvard University's Neuroscience laboratory, tested Armagan while drawing and revealed that as he drew his visual cortex wasn't lying dormant - it had been recruited by his other senses and lit up as though he was seeing. For the ultimate challenge, Dr. Kennedy takes Armagan to Italy to recreate Brunelleschi's perspective masterpiece - the Baptistery in Florence.
Portent: For centuries, it was held that the brain was a fixed entity and hard-wired for each independent function, incapable of adapting itself after injury. Armagan's story has revealed that the brain has the potential to adapt and rewire itself according to individual needs. The brain's ability to reorganize its functions based on new information and experiences is defined as neural plasticity. Dozens of medical therapies have been developed as a result of breakthroughs in thinking about plasticity - specifically strokes, autism, schizophrenia, spinal cord injuries, epilepsy, chronic pain and many other previously "untreatable" conditions. The next steps lie in learning enough about plasticity to harness it for individual needs. But in the next stage of our evolution, when we have the technology to program human life and fix any identifiable defects, would people like Armagan be eliminated before they are even born?
While most people acknowledge the differences between coercive and elective forms of eugenics, will there be room in this future world for those of us who are considered "genetically unfit?" In this vision of the future, we must look not only at what we will gain, but also at what might be lost."