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Oliver Sacks, the famous neuroscientist and author, can't recognize faces. Neither can Chuck Close, the great artist known for his enormous paintings of...that's right, faces. 

Oliver and Chuck--both born with the condition known as Face Blindness--have spent their lives decoding who is saying hello to them. You can sit down with either man, talk to him for an hour, and if he sees you again just fifteen minutes later, he will have no idea who you are. (Unless you have a very squeaky voice or happen to be wearing the same odd purple hat.) Chuck and Oliver tell Robert what it's like to live with Face Blindness in a conversation recorded for the World Science Festival, and they describe two very different ways of coping with their condition (which may be more common than we think).


Chuck Close and Dr. Oliver Sacks

Comments [11]

Amy MacDonald from Falmouth Maine

In reply to the Michael 9above): there was a piece in the New Yorker abaout 6 months ago about this exact "problem" and how police forces found certain officers who could remember every face they saw.They then used this super-ability to have them identify criminals. So obviously there is a spectrum of "facial recognition ability." Too bad they didn't go into that here.

Mar. 18 2018 07:47 AM
Sean Higgins from Norwalk, CT

I just love your show.
I think I might have some degree of face blindness which was a revelation in and of itself. But I think the real point for me was made by the quote from Robert Rauschenberg. "When you're this way you have to find other venues for your intelligence." Wouldn't it be great if all of our schools understood this.

Apr. 05 2014 07:48 PM
Zack from NH

Really great interview, but I wish people would stop cutting Dr. Sacks off. The guy is a genius - let him speak, Mr. Close!

Jul. 30 2013 04:34 PM

After hearing this report, I'm wondering what my disease is called. After seeing the parents of the kids in my son's class at back-to-school nights for 8 - 9 years, I pretty much knew them all by name. So when I passed them in the hallway as we moved from class to class for the 10th year, I would say "Hi, Ralph" or "Hi, Mary." My wife was enraged and asked me to please refrain, saying it's abnormal to remember peoples faces, much less the names that go with them, unless they are significant people in each others' lives, and that it was an aggressive act, sure to make them feel bad, to recognize them and call out their names. How would Mr. Close, Mr. Sacks and the panel of specialists diagnose this illness? Perhaps "hyperfacionominal recognition"? Am I entitled to some sort of health benefits for this thing?

Dec. 01 2012 08:34 PM
Ella S from USA

Thank you so much for doing the piece on face blindness. I struggled with face blindness after undergoing an illness and it was a very difficult experience because many people I met, as well as friends and family, were unwilling to believe that anything like face-blindness existed. I didn't even know that face blindness existed--I just couldn't recognize faces anymore and I didn't know how to explain it to people. It was very embarrassing and awkward. On your program one of the interviewees stated that they were not aware of anyone who had been cured of face blindness, but my face blindness began to improve dramatically about a year after my illness ended, for which I am very grateful. I think the more people who know that face blindness is a real thing, the easier it will be for people who struggle with it. Thank you again for covering it on your show in such a funny and compassionate way.

Dec. 01 2012 04:46 PM
Test Monkey

The face blindness test with the celebrities can be found at

Jun. 26 2012 03:14 PM

Love the show! I just did the test and got 30 out of 30. I guess I don't have a problem with facial recognition. I never thought about it before this show and had no idea this afflicted people. Of course, I always knew I was great with faces. Names. I can never remember them. Like, ever. Ho hum.

Thanks for the great shows!

Jun. 01 2011 04:58 PM
Chris Lin

face blindness test:

Apr. 15 2011 10:13 PM
Christine Schultz from Epsom, NH

I love your show! I have never heard one that wasn't great. I would love it if you would post the pictures of the famous people without hair. It would be fun to see how many I could get right.

Apr. 15 2011 12:55 PM
sup3r510th from Nashville

I was curious what the song playing between this segment and the previous one in the The Soul Patch episode.

By the way, Absolutely love the show. And work with your father Jad. Very cool to learn the world is a little smaller than I thought.

Apr. 15 2011 12:28 PM

That was amazing! I recently, for my humanities class, read Oliver Sacks's book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and it was excellent! I listened to this and I couldn't stop smiling!

Apr. 05 2011 10:09 PM

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