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The Edge Episode 16: I Once Was Blind, But Now?

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How is it possible to be blind and able to see at the same time? In this episode of The Edge, we explore blindsight, a bizarre neurological condition that may offer clues about where consciousness comes from and why we have it. Leah is joined by Simon Lewis (JD ‘80), a survivor of a tragic accident who has blindsight, and Berkeley experts. They discuss how blindsight works and its implications for understanding the origin of human consciousness. 

Show Notes: 

This episode was written and hosted by Laura Smith and Leah Worthington and produced by Coby McDonald. 

Special thanks to Pat Joseph, Margie Cullen, and Hayden Royster. Art by Michiko Toki and original music by Mogli Maureal.


LEAH: The first thing Simon Lewis remembers seeing when he opened his eyes was a window, with a faint glow of sunlight. 


There was a window and I fixated on the window. That was my first memory because I thought I’d never seen anything as beautiful. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know the word for window. 


That was my first memory. 


I have no idea how long I stared at the light, I just was transfixed by it.

LEAH: Though Simon was a fully grown man, the concept of a window was no more familiar to him than his own name. That, too, had been lost. 


I didn’t notice that my jaw was wired, I didn’t notice that I couldn’t move my body because my pelvis had been crushed, my spine was broken, and my arms and my jaw and my skull. I didn’t notice any of that. 


I didn’t know I had arms. I didn’t know I had a jaw. I didn’t know anything. I was brand new, born at the age of 35. 

LEAH: A month earlier, Simon had survived, just barely, what should have been an unsurvivable accident.


I was teaching at USC School of Cinematic Arts, which is one of the biggest of the film schools in Los Angeles.


I left the campus that day to pick Marcy up at the Music Center. And we were going to go out for dinner with an old friend of his wife, a director of photography. And we never got there. 

LEAH: It was March 2, 1994. Simon and his wife, Marcy, were driving through downtown Los Angeles in their brand new Infiniti. 


I probably was so excited to see my wife and go out for dinner, I probably didn’t consider slowing down for anything. We were newlyweds.

LEAH: Things were looking up for Simon. He was 35 years old and a rising movie producer in Hollywood. He had just produced the original Look Who’s Talking—a film about a baby whose thoughts are voiced by Bruce Willis—and was recently married.


We were just a little bit low on time. And I didn’t want my friends to wait. Of course as it turned out, they waited and waited and they couldn’t get me on the phone. 


And so they never knew until I saw on the evening news why I hadn’t shown up for the dinner date with my wife.

LEAH: A car going nearly 80 miles per hour T-boned the newlyweds, sending them flying through the air and into a tree, ultimately landing in the front yard of a nearby house whose occupants were just sitting down to dinner. Marcy was killed instantly.


The last thing I said to my wife was, ‘let’s go see the house of your boss after dinner.’


Such a normal sentence.


Such a normal sentence.

LEAH: When the paramedics arrived on the scene, they reported no survivors.


They thought that I was dead.


Not really a survivable impact. So it’s not quite understandable how I’m still here. 

LEAH: Only after two jaws of life were used to pry his body from the wreckage did they find a pulse. Simon was rushed to Cedar Sinai, where he was intubated and put into a deep coma. Doctors warned his family he likely wouldn’t wake up. But a month later, incredibly, he opened his eyes. With no memory of himself, his wife, or his family, and no knowledge of where he was, he felt like an alien just arrived on a new planet.

SIMON: 58:17

I just felt that I was a visitor from some very, very faraway place. Because I didn’t know any of this stuff.

SIMON: 56:29

My next memory was when a voice said to me. What’s your name? What’s your name?

SIMON: 57:08

And I didn’t understand why I was being asked that.

SIMON: 57:31

And so she asked it again. And then there was this automatic response where I mumbled ‘Simon.’ 


When I emerged from the coma in a bed, looked around me, a voice to me, seemingly from nowhere, said, What’s your name? And I didn’t know. But the answer that came to me was the word Simon. So that was the word I said, but it’s not as though I felt that I was Simon. I actually felt that I was a visitor from another planet because I had a long time. Just looking out the window. I had no idea what had occurred, because I’d only just been born.


LEAH: This is The Edge, a podcast produced by California magazine and the Cal Alumni Association.

LEAH: In this episode we explore a bizarre and fascinating neurological condition…and consider what it means for our understanding of human consciousness. 

LEAH: I’m your host, Leah Worthington. Laura Smith will be back with us next episode. 


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LEAH: When Simon woke up in that hospital bed, he had no idea what he was facing. That day was just the beginning of a long, arduous journey towards recovery, working on everything from walking to regaining his memory. And with all his injuries—head trauma, broken bones, amnesia—it took a while for anyone to realize that one of his primary senses was severely damaged.


They missed completely the fact that I was half-blind.

LEAH: With a third of his right hemisphere of his brain gone, Simon had completely lost sight in his left field of vision. He could see, but significantly worse than before. He was, as it’s called, functionally blind, which meant he had to use so many workarounds to perform basic tasks that his day-to-day life was substantially altered. But then—and this is where things get interesting—more vision tests detected something peculiar: He could still identify objects his optometrist, Dr. Alan Brodney, presented in his blindspot, with surprising accuracy but with no awareness of actually seeing them.


And he said, ‘I’m holding a card. Can you see the card?’ 


I said, ‘No, I can’t.’ And then he said, ‘What color is the card?’ And I said, ‘I can’t see the card. I’ve no idea what color it is.’ He said, ‘I know. Yes.’ And I thought truthfully…I thought it was nuts.

LEAH: But Simon played along. He thought, what hell, maybe it’s red. And…as it turned out, it was red. So Dr. Brodney held up another card. And again, Simon, unable to see it, correctly identified the color. 


I would tell him, ‘just guess.’ And he would guess correctly. 

LEAH: That’s Dr. Brodney.


Or I’d say, you know, like, tell me what this object is. And he would say, I don’t see that object. And then I’d be like, well, give me an idea. What kind of shape is it? And he could tell me sometimes characteristics of the object, even though he was technically blind in that field. 

LEAH: Dr. Brodney began to realize that what he was seeing was a classic case of blindsight, the first he’d ever diagnosed. Blindsight, if you’ve never heard of it, which I hadn’t until recently, is a bizarre, paradoxical condition of simultaneous blindness and sightedness. People who experience blindsight claim to be unable to see—and yet they do miraculously well in identifying objects or navigating cluttered hallways.

LEAH: And that’s not all. Though not yet fully understood, the very existence of blindsight suggests something sort of incredible: a distinction between conscious and subconscious vision—in other words, what we are aware of seeing and what information simply arrives in our brains undetected.

LEAH: The phenomenon could have profound implications not just for the visually impaired, like Simon, but also for our very understanding of what it means to see and experience the world. Some scientists even believe that, if we can identify the neural pathways of conscious and subconscious visual perception, we might just be able to observe the mechanisms of consciousness itself.

LEAH: Blindsight was actually first discovered in monkeys in the 70s. And it completely upended scientists’ understanding of how vision works.

LEAH: If you’re thinking that visual perception works sort of like a camera—that it’s constantly scanning the world and feeding that information directly to our brain—you’re right, to some extent. The retina, operating like a lens, detects and sends signals via the optic nerve through the thalamus and into the primary visual cortex where information, including color, shape, and orientation, is processed. And that enables you, or your brain, to see the outside world. Which means, damage to the primary visual cortex, also known as the V1 or striate cortex, is kind of like turning off the camera. Or so they thought.

NIKHIL BHATLA: For many years, for centuries, even, you know, you’d get, you get people who either had a stroke to their visual cortex the back of their brain, or they would have maybe a gunshot, you know, from World War One, World War Two, some war.

NIKHIL: 18:29

And we had many, many patients who had lost their vision, you know, they had a gunshot wound or a stroke.

NIKHIL: 18:45

And we just assumed they were blind, you know, for centuries. 

LEAH: That’s Nikhil Bhatla, a postdoctoral researcher in Berkeley’s department of molecular and cellular biology who studies blindsight in mice. 

NIKHIL: 18:48

And then in the 70s, or in the 50s. And 60s, people started doing more experiments with monkeys, and removing the or damaging the visual cortex of the monkey, similar to the kind of damage that would happen in them human. And they were very surprised to find that these monkeys were sort of fine. 

NIKHIL: 19:06

If you did very precise tests, you could find subtle differences in their vision, but they seemed really normal. 

LEAH: The original study subject was a rhesus monkey named Helen, who became known as “the blind monkey who saw everything.” In 1965, a Cambridge researcher named Lawrence Weiskrantz, removed Helen’s visual cortex, and for the first 19 months post-operation, she appeared to be almost completely unsighted—as expected. But then Weiskrantz began to notice something odd: Occasionally the movement of a nearby object would catch Helen’s eye, causing her to turn her head.

LEAH: So she was somehow perceiving things…even though she was blind. And over time they were able to train her to respond with increasing precision to objects that, theoretically, she shouldn’t have been able to see. Based on scientists’ understanding of how vision works, it should have been impossible for Helen to see without her primary visual cortex. Which is what led the scientists to hypothesize that her quote-unquote sight relied on a different circuitry. 

LEAH: In other words, even though Helen couldn’t see, her eyes were still somehow collecting information about the world—but since there was no visual cortex, they were sending that information to another part of her brain. After the Helen experiments, scientists started finding instances of this phenomenon in humans. And it’s been pretty well-documented in people since the 70s. 


In the classical experiment, they asked the person to sit down in a room and they would present visual target in the field that the person was blind in and they consciously could not see anything. And they would ask the person to point and when they and when they pointed, they pointed extremely accurately to where that target was. And so they termed this “blindsight” because you know, that person can’t see anything, and “see” is a tricky term. But you know, because apparently they can, they can point to the targets. 

LEAH: If you’re like, ‘tricky? I thought sight was just sight, just the eyes telling the brain what they see?’ you’re not alone. But as it turns out, even the question of whether you’re aware of seeing something can be surprisingly…subjective.

LEAH: Take this famous video on YouTube of a bunch of people playing basketball. You, the viewer, are instructed to count how many times they pass the basketball. And at the end of the clip, the narrator is like, ‘the answer is 12. But did you see the moonwalking bear??’

LEAH: It turns out, while you were busy counting how many times the basketball changed hands, there was some dude in a big black bear costume literally moonwalking right across the middle of the screen. And most people, myself included, were completely oblivious to the bear. I truly did not see it. At least not as far as I’m aware.

LEAH: It’s a pretty weird experience to completely miss something that seems so obvious. And a great illustration of the not-so-straightforward relationship between our eyes and our brain. As blindsight seems to suggest, some amount of visual information may reach our brain without our even being aware of it.

LEAH: And if you’re like, ‘woah, this sounds crazy,’ there are some pretty amazing videos online that I’d definitely recommend you check out. In one, which was filmed in 2008, a blind, cane-using patient known as TN, was asked to walk down a hallway that, unbeknownst to him, was littered with office equipment and other objects. In the video, which is on YouTube, you can see the patient navigating around the obstacles as if he could see them all perfectly.

LEAH: To reiterate—TN couldn’t consciously see anything. He was completely blind.


What’s so confusing about it, even the term itself is a total oxymoron.


Yeah, the invention of that term was quite clever. Because of its oxymoronic nature, it’s sort of, you know, it’s intrinsically, it sort of makes it very mysterious, rigid remains. Regardless of the term it is really weird. On the one hand, you can’t see, and on the other hand, you can.


And so how is it—how does that work?


There’s an aspect of vision, which doesn’t require a cortex—sort of the part of the brain that’s most well developed in humans and, you know, higher mammals. 

LEAH: In other words, there are two distinct pathways in the brain: one that produces our normal, conscious visual experience—which allows us to see and recognize and actively respond to things in the world. And another pathway, that operates more under the radar, feeding the brain information without our even being aware of it.


But do we all have blindsight, and our subconscious vision is perceiving things and giving us information all the time? Or is it something that kicks in if the higher, or the other conscious level of perception is damaged?


So, I think the research on this is a little bit tricky. But my opinion is that, I think, I think both are actually happening. So I think, when you know, when I think about a baseball player hitting a ball, right, that ball is moving so fast, there’s no chance for them to really consciously see where it is. Right. And so they have to be relying on some sort of unconscious visual pathway to be able to hit that ball, in my mind. 


And so I think of that is like unconscious processes, like unconscious vision that are present. But then I think there’s a second stage that happens, and I see this in my mice a little bit as well, which is potentially which is that you also do learn, right, when you lose that dominant pathway, the conscious or cortical pathway. Now your other you know, what remains, you know, becomes better, you know, through experience becomes better trained and better able to adapt and respond appropriately.

LEAH: So the idea is that what we think of as vision or our experience of vision, simply using our eyeball cameras to perceive the 3D world, is just one part of the picture. All the while another region of our brain, separate from the primary visual cortex, might be receiving and processing information about the world, subconsciously.

LEAH: But, to play Devil’s advocate, it is possible that the information is actually coming in through the usual channels. Perhaps the red card is outside of Simon’s fully functioning vision, somewhere in his peripheral vision. Or maybe he is aware of it, but just really vaguely.

LEAH: In fact, there’s actually a pretty outspoken philosopher at Johns Hopkins University named Ian Phillips, who is skeptical that blindsight is truly “subconscious vision.” He doesn’t deny that it uses an alternate brain pathway, but he thinks it’s just a kind of super degraded, normal vision. His argument is basically that, if people are able to make deliberate and voluntary decisions—such as pointing to an object or navigating a narrow hallway—then they must, to some extent, be consciously aware of what’s in front of them.

LEAH: Nikhil is aware of this critique and he basically acknowledges that blindsight, by definition, seems to defy understanding. But he also insists that blindsight and regular sight are fundamentally very different. The “richness” of visual experience, as he calls it, is something blindsight patients generally lack.


They can’t, they don’t have the experience of seeing. They don’t have what I would call, or what philosophers call quality. They don’t have the subjective experience of seeing.

LEAH: This lack of an “experience of seeing” sounds a lot like what Simon was describing earlier. When probed about the color of an object, he could offer what felt to him like a total guess. But it didn’t feel real or meaningful to him.

LEAH: Interestingly, once he found out that he had blindsight, he found that he could kind of…use it. And that’s one of the most incredible things about this whole story. First of all, he found that the blindsight diagnosis gave him language to describe his new experience of reality.

SIMON 52:51

Essentially, I have a different brain inside my head than I did before a catastrophic hit and run. So I see the world with different eyes now.

SIMON 1:57:11

One way that I have found to describe the way that I perceive the world, the errors that I can see with direct eyesight is that even the areas that I can see, it’s not like it’s me seeing it. It’s like I’m remembering seeing it in the past.

SIMON 26:21

Because I have less awareness of where my body is, parts of my consciousness are constantly saying, where’s your left foot? Where’s my foot, your left foot? Where is it? Where is it? Where is that thing? Where’s the right foot? Where are those parts? Where are you? So the fact that I’m lost, this means that the brain is constantly seeking that information,

LEAH: Along with all his other rehab, Simon also started undergoing weekly therapy sessions and doing exercises to try to expand his vision and function better in the world. 


I went through an awful lot of developmental optometry training, Vision training, I recovered a lot of my inferior quadrant down here.


The reason I knew that this was therapy, and was really affecting aspects of my consciousness had been damaged was because after about 30 seconds, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. 


And I think if you get tired, it dims. 


In other words, as my brain starts to fatigue, there’s less less there’s less consciousness.


I’m living proof that there’s always opportunities to retrain the brain.


I think there’s a lot of neuroplasticity, a lot of substitution. And that’s part of the miraculousness of consciousness that the brain keeps trying.

LEAH: Amazingly, he can actually see better. And over time—although scientists might dispute this—Simon has come to think of his blindsight as a tool that allows him to tap into even more subconscious information.


Blindsight is a kind of superpower, through which we can see things that we cannot consciously see.


Because of all the visual training I’ve done, there’s more usable aspects that I’ve been able to access, which is, I can reach out and touch the object I can’t see.

LEAH: As Simon began to develop greater awareness of his own subconscious knowledge, he also discovered an ability to probe it. For instance, driving in focused silence (with the aid of prismatic glasses), he’s able to attend to objects in his blindspots that might otherwise go unnoticed. 


As my vision developmental optometrist said to me, I’m functionally substantially uncited. Yet, I can drive. 


There are times when I feel—in fact, I always feel as though I am looking at my own consciousness.


It’s a very strange thing.


I sometimes will ask questions of my subconscious. And it may take a few hours. Or it might be the next day that the answer then surfaces as if unbidden because the subconscious doesn’t respond to verbal commands. But that door is open.

LEAH: If you’re curious what it’s like to “probe your subconscious,” all I can say is, me too.  But Simon does this with things like names or memories and with visual information.

LEAH: Of course, Simon is the first to admit that he’s still incredibly limited in his abilities and often finds himself completely disoriented in time and space—which gets back to what Nikhil said about blindsight providing information but not context or meaning.


Before I was able to walk and move confidently through three dimensional space and navigate that space. And if I was driving, I would be able to turn left, turn right, turn left again, turn right, and have an overall sense of roughly where I was going. 


That sense of location in time and space is something that I’ve lost.


Because the fundamental lack of orientation goes very deep. Although I know what day of the week it is right now, I don’t have an inherent sense of that. 

LEAH: So, what does all of this have to do with big C consciousness? Well, I’ll start by saying: Nikhil has always been really interested in the big, existential questions.


I remember as a kid, maybe in like, seventh grade, you know, thinking about, you know, like, why am I here, you know, why am I alive? You know, what, what is the meaning of life? Right, a classic question. 

LEAH: And, like so many philosophers before him, his curiosity hinged on one key mystery of the human experience: consciousness.


While this has been like a, you know, ancient philosophical question, like how we have consciousness, it’s surprisingly understudied in my opinion, because it’s hard, you know, very hard to study.


And I’ve been trying to figure out a way to study it.

LEAH: When he first heard of blindsight, he was like, oh my god, this might be a way to bring together science and philosophy—applying real research methods to actually study the nature of consciousness. So, that’s what he’s trying to do—in mice.

LEAH: The basic idea is to poke around in mice brains to figure out which brain cells are involved in transmitting subconscious visual information and which are necessary for producing conscious visual experience. And ultimately identify the specific neural pathways that enable us to, for example, see a cat and think, ‘oh, there’s a cat! I like cats. I’m going to pet it!’ … or i guess in the case of a mouse, run for its life.  

LEAH: When I say poke around in mice brains…it’s pretty cool actually. Nikhil is essentially replicating previous primate studies, except in mice and with more advanced technology. First, he trains the mice to navigate a simulated maze and rewards them for running in the right direction.


The mice start in this, like, virtual maze, and there’s a central target, sort of right in the center. 


So I essentially train the mouse to run to that central target.


And they’ll get the reward, but only if there’s no target on the left or the right.

LEAH: If there’s a target on either side, they’re trained to run towards that. Then, he removes the primary visual cortex on one side of the mouse’s brain to induce partial blindness and repeats the experiment. So, without the left visual cortex, for example, a mouse will be blind to a target displayed on the right.


The mouse will ignore it, and will run straight. 

LEAH: So that shows that the mice is in fact blind. But how does he show that it has blindsight? And that’s the clever part. He basically forces the mice to tap into their subconscious visual information by getting rid of the option of the central target.


And I find that when I remove that central target, and now essentially force the mouse to go to any target that it might have a feeling might be there, they do very well, they go to that right target.


So they have they do maybe three times better than they would do…Their blindsight is three times better than how they would do when they’re mostly acting blind.


It’s pretty robust. It’s robust enough that I can do some real science with it.

LEAH: So he’s observed blindsight in mice and shown that it’s a pretty powerful conduit of subconscious visual information. The question is: how is this all related to consciousness? Well, it’s a little confusing, but the general idea is that the existence of a subconscious visual pathway proves the existence of a conscious visual pathway. 


What I think is really interesting, and I feel has been under emphasized in the research so far, is that what this showed was that there was actually a part of the brain that mediated a specific aspect of consciousness, you know, visual experience. And to me, that’s a huge breakthrough.

LEAH: Ultimately, his goal is to more precisely identify the neural circuitry involved in both pathways and point to the part of the brain that gives us the ability to have conscious visual experience. In other words, he’ll be able to directly study where one aspect of consciousness—vision—is produced. 


In the long run, maybe we can develop a theory of neural circuits in the brain that go along with conscious experience by contrasting, you know, these unconscious, these visual circuits that mediate unconscious vision with visual circuits that mediate conscious vision.

LEAH: To more precisely identify the cranial regions involved in visual perception, Nikhil plans to work with a technology called ‘optogenetic tools’ that basically uses light to selectively stimulate neurons. 


I can actually go in and activate specific layers, or specific subpopulations, specifically within V1. 

LEAH: Remember the V1 is the primary visual cortex, responsible for processing conscious visual information. 


And I can try to find, you know, just like we discovered V1 was important for consciousness in the whole brain, I can find another part within V1 that might be the critical part of V1 that’s important for conscious vision.

LEAH: So Nikhil can use those to manipulate neural circuits, turning on and off different neurons and basically asking: “what does this wire do?” Or “is this wire necessary for visual processing?”

LEAH: So his first goal is to shed a little bit of light on the question of where this aspect of consciousness comes from in the brain, and to create a sort of blueprint diagramming the whole circuit. But he wants to take it even further. Because one of the questions that has always nagged at him is not just what consciousness is, but how did it evolve, and why?


The dominant way of thinking about the brain is that it’s a computer, right, that it’s processing things, and then just spitting out results and controlling your limbs and your language and everything. And so from a sort of basic scientific point of view, we shouldn’t even be conscious, right? Why are we conscious?


From a purely like scientific point of view, everything can just operate, we should be able to just operate without any experience. You know, this is an outstanding philosophical question, like, why do we even have experience? How has it evolved? Does it play any function in, you know, survivability?

LEAH: But how does this mouse research shed light on the origin of consciousness? How does blindsight in mice or people or any other creature help answer the question of why humans became conscious beings? Well, I’ll admit, this is where things start to get kind of theoretical. But according to Nikhil, creating this neural blueprint of conscious and subconscious visual pathways might be able offer some clues.  


You can try to study it from an evolutionary point of view, because then you could go all the way down to the, these worms that I used to study in my PhD, who only have 302 neurons, all the way up to you know, the human, which has, you know, 10s of billions of neurons. And we can try to see where, where do those neural patterns appear in the course of evolution, and I think that would be really interesting.

LEAH: Meaning he could compare the brains of different species and try to identify precisely when and where consciousness evolved in biological history. And that could, potentially, give us a better idea of what purpose it serves.

LEAH: And that could have practical benefits because understanding the mechanisms of conscious and subconscious vision could lead to better therapies and treatments for people like Simon, who have suffered from traumatic brain injury. According to his advisor, Hillel Adesnik, Nikhil has already experimented with like 10 different cell types in the visual cortex and shown that some are critical in producing conscious vision, while others you can kind of do without.

LEAH: And that’s kind of amazing if you really think about it because what they’re doing is pinpointing at the neuron level one facet of the experience of being—of being a human. In other words: consciousness. 

LEAH: This is where my conversation with Nikhil started to go a little over my head. We’re dancing around a much more philosophical question about what consciousness even is. Like, is it simply our ability to perceive and process information or is it more than that? And while I do believe that there is a certain amount we can elucidate from science, there’s still a part of me that just feels like consciousness is so much bigger and more complex. Maybe I just want to believe that because I’m afraid of losing the mystery. 


I do, I know exactly what you mean. 


But somehow, for me, the mystery is just too compelling. And then I also wonder if there might be some real social benefit to knowing some of these things.


There are probably like therapies and other positive things that could come from this kind of research. And I don’t know, I just feel like we should know, you know? We should know what is true. Because when we know what is true, we can live a better life. And you know, and people can have a higher quality of life. And I think that should be more important than hanging on to the mystery.


What I’ve discovered, at least with biological science, is that with every question you answer, you open up ten new doors of new questions. 


And so I think there will actually always be mystery, I don’t think we need to expect a reduction in mystery anytime, in magic, anytime soon.


LEAH: On the darkest day of his recovery, Simon tried to give up. What was the point in continuing on, he wondered from the prison of his hospital room, if everything that brought meaning and joy to his life was gone? 


At that point, that hospital bed, I didn’t have anything. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t move. I’d lost my wife after only five months of marriage.


I just didn’t want to be…I wanted to be gone.

LEAH: In the end, it was a throat infection that yanked him from his depression. 

SIMON: 1:15:02

So I’d lost my voice. And I realized when I woke up that morning with my whole—my throat was completely choked up, completely sore. And I realized at that point that I had felt sorry for myself, and I would never do it again. Because I realized, things can always get worse, and they can always get better. 

LEAH: And I’m happy to report that Simon is doing pretty well these days. He’s still impaired in his gait and sight—in fact, he recently tripped and broke his humerus and rotator cuff. And he suffers from headaches, sensory overload, and chronic fatigue, among other things. But…all things considered, Simon has really turned his life around. He’s recovered quite a bit of the function in the lower left quadrant of his brain. He’s also become quite a cheerleader for people recovering from traumatic brain injury, giving TED Talks and even publishing a book, Rise and Shine, about his experience. 

SIMON: 1:16:45

It’s about each day celebrating what remains.

SIMON 1:16:57

I’ve learned through this whole process, to try to share information to encourage people, because there is so much reason for hope and hope for reason. And at the same time, understand that what is always valuable and worthwhile is what remains, or who remains.


LEAH: This is The Edge, brought to you by California magazine and the Cal Alumni Association. I’m Leah Worthington.

LEAH: This episode was produced by Coby McDonald, with support from Pat Joseph. Margie Cullen, and Hayden Royster. Special thanks to Simon Lewis, Nikhil Bhatla, Dr. Alan Brodney, and everyone else who gave me critical insight and context for this story. Original music by Mogli Maureal.


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