On Luria's "Z" (by SP)

From: Susie (SJP695@psy.soton.ac.uk)
Date: Sat Feb 18 1995 - 19:45:33 GMT

Describe the difficulties of Luria's Z (The man with a shattered world)
and how (to what extent) he overcame them.

Luria's Z or Zazetsky was once a very clever student studying at a
Polytechnic Institute in Russia; he was in his fourth year of study.
 However, unfortunately he suffered severe brain damage which destroyed
his chance of a normal life. His brain damage was the cause of a
bullet fragment shot into his brain during war. From then on Z
suffered impairment of vision, loss of memory and ability to speak,
read and write. The book `The man with the shattered world' describes
how this courageous man relearns to identify, recall and understand the
way to speak, read and write.

Firstly, Z's ability to see was almost completely ruined. His vision
worked in very mysterious ways. He could no longer see a whole single
object. Instead, his eyes saw the left side of objects; the right side
of things didn't seem to exist. For instance when he picked up a spoon
he could only see part of it. His vision was not the same as yours or
mine; it was completely different. To him the things others would see
would just be a swarm of fuzziness. A picture appeared to be upside
down, inside out, lop sided and any other way it could be distorted.
If things did seem to be fuzzy, what he did see was only half as much
as someone else would see; he had a small span of vision.

Not only were real situations muffled by his vision but so were
imaginary situations. Z suffered hallucinations because the damaged
area of the brain stimulated the nerve cells that retain visual
memories. It was as though the right side of his body didn't exist.
 He couldn't see it so every time he walked along he bumped into walls
as a result. Vision was just one of the many difficulties Z suffered.

Due to the brain damage his `sense of body' changed as well as his
reactions. In fact, he had no sense of his body including other objects
around him. He loses the sight of his right side because he forgets he
can't see that side; this is because of t At other times Z was unaware
of the positioning of his body's parts.
 If he closed his eyes he wasn't quite sure where his right leg was.
 He had to search for parts of his body like separate pieces.
Surprisingly it was very difficult to show his doctor where his back
was. In addition he'd forgotten a lot of the names for parts of his
body; it would take him literally hours to remember. It was impossible
for Z to point out something quickly because he got all confused. For
example if the doctor said `Hands on your hips', he would be left all

Another misfortune was forgetting how his body functioned like going to
the toilet and forgetting how to get someone's attention. The time
when he needed the toilet in hospital was frustrating for Z because
he'd forgotten how to get the nurse's attention. The physical strains
were just too much for him as he got tired very easily and quickly.

Sense of space was another difficulty Z faced. Generally, he had no
sense of it and couldn't judge relationships between things. He
perceived the world as broken into thousands of separate parts.
Misjudging the position of objects was one of his faults. For example
if he wanted to sit down he would misjudge whereabouts the chair was
and where he was. The same difficulty occurred with clasping hands;
he couldn't use his right hand because he couldn't see it. This seemed
to be a situation of `out of sight out of mind'.

Difficulties such as these ran into those using objects. Z forgot how
to use simple things. If he was given a needle and thread in hospital
workshops he would just sit there for ages to workout how to use them.
They looked familiar but he just forgot how to use them. More
misjudgments of the position of objects lead to problems. For example
when he went to axe a stump of wood he would just hit the floor or his
foot instead. Things seemed so peculiar to him that he was afraid to
reach out and touch things in his room.
 He lived in a world that seemed to have disintegrated; the simplest
things became so complex. Z had to search for everything as Luria
describes,'he mentally probed each object as though he were a blindfolded
man groping his way through space'. It was just one big maze for him
because because he couldn't orient himself in space, tell from left or
right or gauge distance and relationship between 2 objects. Z couldn't
even workout where a sound was coming from because he'd lost spatial

His ability to read also suffered great problems. It would take him
hours to read something let alone understand it. Once, his family
bought a new stove; he spent weeks trying to read and understand the
instruction booklet that eventually he was convinced the stove was
faulty. His concentration to read was too hard so he avoided it when
he could. Generally, he couldn't read; he was illiterate and couldn't
remember the alphabet. However, he attempted to relearn this skill.
By the third lesson he could remember the letters m and a but not
immediately; he progressed very slowly. He especially found it very
difficult to remember the letters s, k and m. So, he tried to
associate words with them but he could only remember these for a couple
of minutes. For him to remember words, he found it good to recite the
out loud. b Reading was very difficult for Z. It wasn't until a few
months that he knew the whole alphabet; even still he couldn't recall
it immediately. His visual span was limited so his reading suffered
subsequently. Z couldn't see an entire word, he had to read each
letter. In order to read he would have to focus a little to the right
and above a letter to see it. He could only read three letters at
a time. Reading was so slow for him ; when he got to the third word of
a sentence he had forgotten the words before so he'd start again. As a
result, he read really slowly and became very irritated plus the fact
that he couldn't read out of his right eye.

Reading was just part of Z's problem with letters and words. To find
out he could no longer write was also devastating seeing as he used
this all the time in his studies. For one the simple task of actually
holding a pencil was almost impossible. He literally forgotten how to
do this and write letters. Even if he did manage to write something he
wasn't in any fit state to read what he'd written.
 The progress of his writing was the same as his progress to read, that
being slow. It took him six months to read and write with intensive
practice. Z missed out a lot of the important details out when he
wrote. Punctuation wasn't present in his writing as he'd forgotten any
kin of rule. Grammar was another impossible obstacle to get over. The
injury his brain was left with was couldn't allow him to operate with
language. Too complex syntactical patterns are far too difficult for a
patient to grasp who can't even grasp the interrelationships of words
and workout what they imply. For instance, Z may understand what
`brother' and `father' mean but wouldn't be able to know what
`brother's father' meant. He was only able to understand very short

Writing was such a long painful process. He spent twenty five years
writing his journal. It would literally take one day to write half or
one full page. This was because he didn't know how to write. He
didn't know how to link one sentence with another and so consequently
wrote disjointed phrases and clauses. His lack of memory affected his
ability to write. It would take him ages to to remember words; every
word was on the tip of his tongue. The subject he was actually writing
about also slipped from his memory. As a result he often repeated what
he'd written because he'd forgotten he'd already written it. Soon, he
no longer had the strength, memory, thoughts or ideas to carry on
writing his life story. In fact, writing took longer and longer towards
the end of his journal.

All of these difficulties Z suffered from were due to major loss of
memory. In the beginning, just after being wounded, he couldn't even
remember his own name and the village that he lived in. Names would be
lingering in his mind ready to be spoken, on the tip of his tongue.
If he actually tried to to remember things he would find it extremely
difficult to find the right words. But when he didn't happen to be
thinking of it he suddenly found words coming to him. For example,
familiar tunes would suddenly appear in his head. Even so, his memory
was still very bad. It was also shattered into small pieces like the
rest of his world.

As Z's memory was so bad, this prevented him from ever studying
anything he'd once learnt as a student. His memory even affected him
in every day situations. It was a constant strain for him to think and
remember the words people spoke and answer back at the same time. He
was constantly forgetting. Every day simple chores would be delayed as
a result of his memory. For instance, he would go to the barn for some
coal and forget the key; but as soon as he went back for it he'd forget
why he was there. His main trouble was amnesia and forgetfulness.

Even though his memory was seriously impaired there were some things he
could remember more than others. He found it far easier to remember
things from far back in the past like his Kindergarten building. The
funny thing was he had trouble remembering the recent past. As he
stated ,'my memories came back from the wrong end'. Instead of recent
situations being easily remember Z could recollect childhood memories
with a vivid imagination. Whereas simple common memories such as
remembering what a cat or dog looked like was very hard for Z. He
couldn't even visualise faces from his own family but he immediately
recognised them.

Generally, Z's previous effort to acquire useful knowledge had been
pointless. Everything he'd learnt at school had gone. Languages he'd
learnt at school like German and English had been forgotten. As well
as using foreign languages his use of arithmetic had also gone.
Unfortunately, Z had forgotten how to count. He was unable to count
back change given to him in a shop. All those everyday things that you
or I find simple, he finds complex. He has to look life very simply in
a way that a young child would.

Even though Z has tried for years to improve himself, in reality his
wound has caused major brain damage. Damaged areas of the cerebral
cortex could not be restored. Improvements haven't really been made
although he has adjusted to his body peculiarities but they still annoy
him if he's suffering an attack. However, problems with `space'
continued for years. He was unable to orient himself in his own home

When it came to reading and writing, he did actually teach himself how
to do these skills again. However, it took a very long time. As you
know it took him 25 years to write his journal at one page a day at the
most. The content of his writing didn't really improve as his effort
to express himself became no simpler. Although, his speaking improved.
But his world continued to be alien and fragmented. Nothing altered
his tragic state of memory. So to a certain extent Z never really
overcame his trouble of memory. Instead he just constantly tried to
improve things. In reality he was faced with a vicious circle of life
which had no real end.

BIBLIOGRAPHY `The man with a shattered world' by A.R Luria

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