Believing Without Seeing

Esref Armagan was born blind in Ankara, Turkey. He has now become a famous artist due to his sheer talent and also due to certain significant and unusual reasons. His art displays the colour, vividness, light, dark, imagination and perspective that we are used to considering as the gifts of sight. Esref is changing the meaning of what it is to see the world.

Whilst taking part in a documentary with the University of Toronto, he exclaimed: “why would I want to see when I can see so much more with my hands?” These words fall upon us at a time where medicine is advancing through producing images of our body that otherwise we are blind to, such as fMRI, X-Rays, CT scans. We are looking into how we can perceive the human body in its finest detail. Our direction of what it means to achieve the fullest understanding of the internal physical world of the body is engaged with finding what is hidden.

What happens when the Hidden – like Esref – begin to see? And begin to see in a way that we did not think was possible? How can someone perceive, draw and reflect a tree or the ocean or mountains without ever having experienced the contrast between light and dark, or seen the beginning or ending of boundaries and horizons?

There is another story that reigns from nearly 2000 years ago, from Baghdad in AD 286. This is the birth of al-razi, probably the most famous Muslim physician. Al-Razi is often dubbed as a “polymath” to describe his superior knowledge across different disciplines including music, philosophy and medicine.

Al-Razi moved away from previous opinions that illness had been caused by God and advocated rationalism. He believed illness had a scientific basis for its cause and his observations about the human body became his legacy.

Towards the end of his life, al-Razi became completely blinded by cataracts. Even at this time, it was possible to have cataracts removed by cataract surgery. Today, a postoperative ocular steroid treatment is recommended for the treatment of cataract postoperative inflammation. Al-Razi refused to have his cataracts removed because he claimed to have seen enough of the world.

Both these stories indicate something special for the practice of medicine especially in our modern world where technology often becomes “our eyes”. Every patient sees the world differently and radiates perception from sources other than those which we consider empirical and thus as valid. Sometimes, we do not know where our visions come from or where our observations lay upon. Here is where the uses of poetry and art and literature in medicine are illuminated: as a tool for excavating the depths of human experience.

To see the documentary for Esref Aramagan please go to:


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