Posts Tagged ‘dark’

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William H Bates (1860-1931) was an Ophthalmologist with an unconventional view on the workings of the eye. He was also unique among his colleagues in advocating a method of vision-training he claimed would cure problems with sight that are normally corrected by spectacles. However, Wikipediea, as ever a bastion of orthodoxy, dismisses the method in its opening paragraph as “ineffective”, as do many others who take the established scientific view.

A more positive advocate was the writer and visionary Aldous Huxley. Huxley was born with very poor sight and wrote about his experience of the Bates method in his book, “The Art of Seeing” (1942). In it he explained that while his vision remained far from normal throughout his life, Bates’ training helped him to progress from being functionally blind, to being able to manage reasonably well and for a time the Bates Method was all the rage.

So, is it any good or not?

Well, in 1950, Huxley got up to read an address at a Hollywood banquet. The lighting was poor, and he struggled to read his script. In front of many witnesses, he had to resort to a magnifying glass to make out the words. Critics of the Bates method leaped upon this as evidence he’d memorised his script, the implication being he couldn’t really see it and had only been pretending to read it, therefore all Bates method teachers were charlatans, and that Huxley had misrepresented claims of his improved vision. Orthodox ophthalmologists breathed a sigh of relief and went back to business as usual, selling spectacles.

Curiously though there are still plenty of Bates teachers around, and they are not short of positive testimonials. It’s possible that in some cases, having spent a fortune on such a method you’re more likely to praise it for even small gains because you look like less of an idiot that way. But surely not everyone falls into this category, and I wonder if there’s not more to it, that, as with all things, the story is more complex than the shrill headlines and the naysayers allow. Huxley’s case is particularly interesting. As a public intellectual, he had a lot at stake, and it seems unlikely to me he would risk his reputation on such a blatant, elaborate and pointless deception.

So what about my own experience? Well, when my own eyesight began to drift off into myopia in my early teens, I took to practicing the Bates method with enthusiasm. This involved various exercises, all of which, by the way, can be nowadays be found for free online. They include switching focus from near to far distance (tromboning), sitting with your palms over your eyes (palming) and letting the sunlight play upon your closed lids (sunning). I hasten to add none of this had any effect on my vision whatsoever. Indeed my eyesight continued to deteriorate until my middle twenties when, somewhat ironically, I merely accepted the need for spectacles, and things stabilised. So, not much of a testimonial then, except,…

I’ve not troubled myself with the Bates method again until recently. I’m in late middle age now, and for the past few years, although I’m 20-20 with my specs on, I felt that at night, I was becoming less able to discern details in dark shadow. I could no longer see the fainter stars, and had become particularly sensitive to oncoming car headlights, which made night-driving stressful. I don’t know why I picked up on Bates again but, out of interest, I began a regime of alternately sunning, and then palming my eyes – just twenty minutes a day.  The effect on my night vision was immediate and very noticeable, vastly improving what I’d call the dynamic range, and therefore my perception of detail in low light, the night sky once more replete with countless stars, and those pesky ultra-bright headlight beams no longer as much of a nuance.

As for my actual vision, my prescription is unchanged, so the spectacles remain indispensable, but at my age I lack the necessary vanity to wish them gone anyway. On the upside though the eyes are generally healthy and, thanks to Bates and his much maligned method, I no longer worry about commuting in the dark over the coming winter months. Okay, so perhaps the Bates method’s not all it’s cracked up to be, but neither should we dismiss it entirely, because a lot of people have positive things to say about it.

And I’m one of them.

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Our vessel crossed an ocean far from land,
Black velvet waters wide that made no sound,
No ripples burst nor sparkling foam,
Nor wake of waters churned.

An old man at the tiller held our course,
A woman in the bows to scent the wind,
A glance aside was all she’d give,
To guide the old man’s hand.

The sky was clouded thick to gift no stars,
Nor yet a hanging moon to light our way,
No charts had we, nor almanac,
Nor compass rose to play.

Our only sail was raised and lightly taut,
A swollen dart it sped us on with ease,
Yet no wind nor motion did we feel,
Nor time to count the leagues.

All form and all dimension fell away,
All progress measured only in the mind,
Imagination for my eyes,
The dark to bring alive.

I fancied islands dotted all around
And leaping dolphins arcing from the sea,
But there was just the silent night,
My two crew mates, and me.

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