That's part of what I meant. But to be honest, without much conscious
thought I've been harboring a glib little psychological theory that
goes something like this: Losing your vision must make you feel
a general loss of control over your life; understanding the physiology
of how that came about might help restore some sense of control.
I don't mean to reduce all of your fascination with the beauty and
elegance and complexity of nature to pathological compensation,
but, well, is there anything to it?
That's not at all glib. Being struck with the statistically rare
genetic defect or defects that cause retinal degeneration, and losing
my visual grasp of the world, is a continual, frightening confrontation
with chaos. My interest about the particular pathology certainly
sprang from a need to feel some kind of psychological mastery over
the chaos, even if medical control was impossible. And my appreciation
of the general biological world opened out from there: the clinical
stories of neurologist Oliver Sacks, the Human Genome Project, the
discovery of deep-water marine creatures whose entire body surfaces
are their eyes, the versatile potentialities of stem cells, the
myriad pathways of evolutionary development. None of which might
have grabbed my attention before, and all of which now provides
for me no less than a new window on life. Of course, I could have
paid attention before, but didn't. So it goes.
with Retinitis Pigmentosa
What is your understanding of the current state of research on retinal
degeneration? Do they know what genes are involved? Is there much
promise of a medical cure, or of a mechanical device that would replace
a defective retina, in our lifetime?
The active research is running in several complementary directions.
The genetic research has so far identified only the first few of the
many genes that are thought to cause the numerous forms of retinal
degeneration collectively known as RP. The hope, of course, is early
diagnosis and prevention, or cure by way of gene therapy techniques
already in use. Surgical transplantation of retinas seems to hold
little promise, as hooking up the retina's millions of photoreceptor
cells to the optic nerve is like trying to hotwire a car with an ignition
system as complex as the Universe. On the prosthetic side, there are
implanted microchips with mini camera image feeds under development,
as well as other ideas for artificially stimulating or approximating
vision. Much of this is promising, but I wouldn't dare to predict
outcomes. Too many variables.