bates_method.htmlTEXTUm6 5R5S- Bates Method

Reading hard things is very, very bad for your eyes

© Robert Sekuler and Randolph Blake

Chapter Three of Perception (3rd edition) discusses the use of spectacles and contact lenses to compensate for defects in the eye's optics. Though the use of spectacles and contacts is almost universally accepted today, there are some in teresting, very loud dissenters. They are sure that glasses or contacts are worthless at best, and downright harmful under certain conditions. Some of these dissenters are eye-care professionals (optometrists or ophthalmologists) who subscribe to the so- called Bates method, named after William Horatio Bates (1860-1931).

During most of his career, Bates was a physician practicing in New York City. According to Bates, optical correction is unnecessary because eye defects are caused solely by strain and tension. So, if you can eliminate strain and tension, you el iminate eye defects.

In part, Bates' theory is based on an incorrect view of accommodation; Bates steadfastly denied that the crystalline lens changed shape during accommodation. Instead, he claimed, the shape of the entire eyeball changed --by means of pressure from the ext raocular muscles. Misaccommodation, he claimed, resulted from tension, poor memory, lack of rest, and noise. Bates developed a number of exercises to relieve the problem, and other eye problems as well (glaucoma and cataract). These exercises ranged fro m the harmless (palming --covering one's eyes with the cupped palms of the hands), to the very dangerous (sungazing --looking directly at the sun).

Because reading difficult material was an obvious source of tension and strain, Bates encouraged his followers to read mainly familiar things, preferably things they had memorized. Bates made extravagant and unsupported claims for his system, claims t hat were publicly endorsed by a number of influential people. Bates' influential supporters included Aldous Huxley, the author of the well-known volume Brave New World , and the obscure volume The Art of Seeing, which is largel y a testimonial to Bates and his method.

Huxley, who was very nearly blind as a result of corneal scarring, mistakenly believed that Bates had restored his vision. Huxley was humiliated when his "cure" was publicly revealed to be a sham.

By the way, I do not mean to suggest that all eye exercises are worthless; in fact, under proper supervision, exercises may be helpful in strengthening weak extraocular muscles. Such exercises are called orthoptics. However, even today, modern proponents of the Bates method continue to make promises, particularly to college students, that exercises will allow folks to throw away their glasses and contact lenses.. Such claims are doubtful at best.