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More about William H. Bates, M.D.

 

Peter Mansfield in his book “The Bates Method” (1998) introduced Dr Bates this way. The primary tool of Dr. Bates research was the retinoscope, an instrument of elegant simplicity, which allows direct assessment of refraction of the eye. The instrument was coming into regular clinical use while Bates was a student. He was intrigued by the possibilities of this new tool and made it his specialty. Bates was particularly interested in observing animals, children and adults, in normal activity in daylight, as opposed to the artifi- cial surroundings of the consulting room. As his observations continued he began to suspect, then became certain, that the eyes of people seeing normally behaved differently from those who saw abnormally. Further more, whether the vision was on the whole normal or not, the refraction of the eye was constantly changing. Bates then realised that the changes reflected, among other things, the state of mind of the subjects, so the vision would always be nearer to normal if they were relaxed and interested or worse if they were tense, bored or worried.

Having observed that normal as well as abnormal sight was naturally variable, he noticed in people who wore glasses that the vision varied less and the eyes moved less freely. Bates reasoned that movement and variation were important aspects of normal vision and were interfered with by glasses - evidence for his suspicion that glasses make vision worse. He realised, moreover, that in order to see through glasses it was necessary for the eyes to behave constantly in the same way as when they were fitted.

Dr. Bates decided to regard the accuracy of the eye's focus (refraction) not as the starting point of the seeing process but as an end result. He became very interested in the - macula lutea - the yellow spot in the eye where vision is sharpest. Bates discovered that the function of the fovea in relation to the rest of the retina was crucial to all the operations of vision. The point of fixation is the point to which attention is directed at any given moment. Central fixation defined means that the point of immediate attention is always regarded directly by the - fovea centralis. This does not imply that the eye should be fixed in the ordinary sense: on the contrary, in order for central fixation to be maintained, the eye must be constantly moving.

Dr. Bates discovered that the tiny eye movements, which he observed in normal vision, were essential to stimulate the - fovea - properly. According to his reasoning, if the eye stares fixedly, the - fovea - becomes no more sensitive than the surrounding retina. If this happens all kinds of aberrations of vision follow, simply because the eye literally loses its sense of direction

The problem is circular. Lack of central fixation obviously leads to poor vision, however, poor vision also leads to loss of central fixation because those who do not see well either strain to see or stare blankly, expecting not to see, and both habits tend to fix the eye rigidly.

Wearing glasses confuses the situation even more as the lenses are adapted to the staring condition and provide clear vision without the benefit of central fixation. This encourages the sub-conscious belief that it is possible to see all parts of the field of vision equally clear at once, and reinforcing the staring habit.

Without central fixation the eye can neither focus nor track accurately, because the object cannot be centralised in the field of vision. Conversely, in a condition favouring increased central fixation, both the motor (muscular) control of the movement of the eye and the refraction (focusing) of the light within the eye tend to be more accurate. At the same time an observer notices a marked difference in the movement of the eye, while the subject - the viewer - is able to discern that a small area at the center of the field of vision appears brighter and clearer than its immediate surroundings.

Dr. Bates observed the following:

  • The eyeball is not fixed in shape, but flexible.
    The external muscles, which control the movements of the eye, also act in co-ordination to control the shape of the eyeball. The action of the - ciliary - muscle in shaping the lens is of secondary importance. The primary function, determining accuracy both of movement and focus, is central fixation.
  • Loss of central fixation is always due to strain. Poor vision will be improved by encouraging central fixation, which will permit normal co-ordination of the muscles.
  • Any direct attempt to see will intensify the strain and make the vision worse. Strain is not caused by poor sight; strain and stress cause poor sight.

The above findings are directly opposite to the theories of, the founding fathers of ophthalmology; Young, von Graefe, Helmholtz and Donders and perhaps that accounts for the lack of interest by professionals who have dedicated their lives to improving eyesight. Sometimes scientists prefer to hold onto sacred theories and completely ignore simple and effective ways of restoring and maintaining eyesight.

Dr. Bates published his "The Cure of Imperfect Eyesight by Treatment without Glasses, "1919" and helped countless people recover their natural eyesight. However, the leaders of the medical community were not pleased with his obvious success and succeeded in having his licence to practice medicine revoked.

Today only a few people are teaching the Bates Method. Mostly these are people who have regained their natural eyesight using Dr. Bates' discoveries. Virtually the entire profession of ophthalmology is, to this day, continuing in the old ways of prescribing corrective lenses. This is despite the fact that, they fully know lenses will only make the condition worse. The general accepted belief, (not only among professionals) is that eyesight deteriorates with age and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

The Bates Method is still practiced by a few in the US and in the UK. In India the late Dr. R.S. Agarwal founded the "School for perfect eyesight" at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, India.

William H. Bates, M.D. is the grandfather of Vision Training. His ground breaking research accomplished in the period from 1910 to 1914 and the publication of the first article in the Bulletin of the New York Zoological Society, November 1914. The scientific basis for Vision Training is well established through experiments with animals as well as clinical trials. Over the last 100 years many people have benefited from Dr. Bates pioneering work. Perhaps most compelling is the idea that you can actually regain your eyesight through natural means.

Here is how Dr. William H. Bates describe his finding in his own words:

"Examining 30,000 pairs of eyes a year at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary and other institutions, I observed ... many cases in which errors of refraction either recovered spontaneously, or changed their form, and I was unable either to ignore them, or to satisfy myself with the orthodox explanations, even where such explanations were available. It seemed to me that if a statement is truth it must always be truth. There can be no exceptions. If errors of refraction are irreversible, they should not recover, or change their form, spontaneously.

[The focal length – the distance between the lens and the film – of a camera is increased to focus near objects clearly. The focal length is decreased to focus far objects clearly. As noted above, the curvature of a camera's lens never changes. - Bates original illustration.]

In the course of time I discovered that myopia and hypermetropia, like astigmatism, could be produced at will; that myopia was not, as we have so long believed, associated with the use of the eyes at the near point, but with a strain to see distant objects, strain at the near point being associated with hypermetropia; that no error of refraction was ever a constant condition...

In seeking for light upon these problems I examined tens of thousands of eyes, and the more facts I accumulated the more difficult it became to reconcile them with the accepted views. Finally, about half a dozen year's ago, I undertook a series of observations upon the eyes of human beings and the lower animals, the results of which convinced both myself and others that the lens is not a factor in accommodation, and that the adjustments necessary for vision at different distances is effected in the eye, precisely as in the camera, by a change in the length of the organ, this alteration being brought about by the action of the muscles outside of the globe.

In seeking for light upon these problems I examined tens of thousands of eyes, and the more facts I accumulated the more difficult it became to reconcile them with the accepted views. Finally, about half a dozen year's ago, I undertook a series of observations upon the eyes of human beings and the lower animals, the results of which convinced both myself and others that the lens is not a factor in accommodation, and that the adjustments necessary for vision at different distances is effected in the eye, precisely as in the camera, by a change in the length of the organ, this alteration being brought about by the action of the muscles outside of the globe.

Equally convincing was the demonstration that errors of refraction [near-sightedness, astigmatism, and far-signtedness], including presbyopia, are due not to an organic change in the shape of the eyeball or in the constitution of the lens, but to a functional and therefore reversible derangement in the action of the extrinsic muscles.

In making these statements I am well aware that I am contravening the practically undisputed teaching of ophthalmological science for the better part of a century;... but I have been driven to the conclusions which they embody by the facts, and that so slowly that I am surprised by my own blindness. At the time I was improving high degrees of myopia; but I wanted to be conservative, and I differentiated between functional myopia, which I was able to reverse, or improve, and organic myopia, which, in deference to the orthodox tradition, I accepted as irreversible.

Much of my information about the eyes has been obtained by means of simultaneous retinoscopy. The retinoscope is an instrument used to measure the refraction of the eye. It throws a beam of light into the pupil by reflection from a mirror, the light being either outside the instrument – above and behind the subject – or arranged within it by means of an electric battery. On looking through the sight-hole one sees a larger or smaller part of the pupil filled with light, which in normal human eyes is a reddish yellow, because this is the colour of the retina, but which is green in a cat’s eye, and might be white if the retina were diseased. Unless the eye is exactly focused at the point from which it is being observed, one sees also a dark shadow at the edge of the pupil, and it is the behaviour of this shadow when the mirror is moved in various directions which reveals the refractive condition of the eye ... This exceedingly useful instrument has possibilities which have not been generally realized by the medical profession ...

For thirty years I have been using the retinoscope to study the refraction of the eye. With it I have examined the eyes of tens of thousands of school children, hundreds of infants and thousands of animals, including cats, dogs, rabbits, horses, cows, birds, turtles, reptiles and fish. I have used it when the subjects were at rest and when they were in motion – also when I myself was in motion;... I have used it in daytime and at night, when the subjects were comfortable and when they were excited; when they were trying to see and when they were not; when they were lying and when they were telling the truth; when the eyelids were partly closed, shuttling off part of the area of the pupil, when the pupil was dilated, and also when it was contracted to a pin-point; when the eyes were oscillating from side to side, from above downward and in other directions.

In this way I discovered many facts which had not previously been known, and which I was quite unable to reconcile with the orthodox teachings on the subject. This lead me to undertake the series of experimenters already alluded to. The results were in entire harmony with my previous observations, and left me no choice but to reject the entire body of orthodox teachings about accommodation and errors of refraction. “

“The function of the muscles on the outside of the eyeball, apart from that of turning the globe in its socket, has been a matter of much dispute; but after the supposed demonstration by Helmholtz that accommodation depends on the change in curvature of the lens, the possibility of their being concerned in the adjustment of the eye for vision at different distances, or in the production of errors of refraction, was dismissed as no longer worthy of serious consideration.

... In my own experiments upon the extrinsic eye muscles of fish, rabbits, cats, dogs and other animals, the demonstration seemed to be complete that in the eyes of these animals accommodation depends wholly upon the action of the extrinsic muscles and not at all upon the agency of the lens. By manipulation of these muscles I was able to produce or prevent accommodation at will, to myopia, hypermetropia and astigmatism, or to prevent these conditions. Full details of these experiments will be found in the “Bulletin of the New York Zoological Society” for November, 1914, and in the “New York Medical Journal” for May 8, 1915; and May 18, 1918; but for the benefit of those who have not the time or inclination to read these papers, their contents are summarised below.

There are six muscles on the outside of the eyeball, four known as the “recti” and two and the “obliques.” The obliques form an almost complete belt around the middle of the eyeball, and are known, according to their position, as “superior” and

“inferior.” The recti are attached to the sclerotic, or outer coat of the eyeball, near the front, and pass directly over the top, bottom and sides of the globe to the back of the orbit, where they are attached to the bone around the edges of the hole through which the optic nerve passes. According to their position, they are known as the “superior,” “inferior,” “internal,” and “external recti. The obliques are the muscles of accommodation; the recti are concerned in the production of hypermetropia and astigmatism.

In some cases one of the obliques is absent or rudimentary, but when two of these muscles were present and active, accommodation, as measured by the objective test of retinoscopy, was always produced by electrical stimulation either of the eyeball, or the nerves of accommodation near their origin in the brain. It was produced by any manipulation of the obliques whereby their pull was increased. This was done by a tucking operation of one or both muscles, or by an advance- ment of the point at which they are attached to the sclerotic. When one or more of the recti had been cut, the effect of operations increasing the pull of the obliques was intensified.

After one or both of the obliques had been cut across, or after they had been paralysed by the injection of atropine deep into the orbit, accommodation could never be produced by electrical stimulation; but after the effects of the atrophine has passed away, or a divided muscle had been sewed together, accommodation followed electrical stimulation just as usual.

Again when one oblique muscle was absent, as was found to be the case in a dogfish, a shark and a few perch, or rudimentary, as in all cats observed, a few fish and an occasional rabbit, accommodation could not be produced by electrical stimulation. But when the rudimentary muscles was strengthened by advancement, or the absent one was replaced by a suture which supplied the necessary counteraction, accommodation could always be produced by electrical stimulation.

It should be emphasised that in order to paralyse either the recti muscles, or the obliques, it was found necessary to inject the atrophine far back behind the eyeball with a hyperaemic needle. This drug is supposed to paralysed the accommodation when dropped into the eyes of human beings or animals, but in all of my experiments it was found that when used in this way it had very little effect upon the power of the eye to change its focus.

... Eyes from which the lens had been removed, or in which it had been pushed out of the axis of vision, responded to electrical stimulation precisely as did the normal eye, so long as the muscles were active; but when they had been paralyzed by the

injection of atrophine deep into the orbit, electrical stimulation had no effect on the refraction.

In one experiment the lens was removed from the right eye of a rabbit, the refraction of each eye having first been tested by retinoscopy and found to be normal. The wound was then allowed to heal. Thereafter, for a period extending from one month to two years, electrical stimulation always produced accommodation in the lensless eye precisely to the same extent as in the eye which had a lens. The same result was performed on a number of other rabbits, on dogs, and on fish. The obvious conclusion is that the lens is not a factor in accommodation.

In most text-books on physiology it is stated that accommodation is controlled by the third cranial nerve, which supplies all the muscles of the eyeball except the superior oblique and the external rectus; but the forth cranial nerve, which supplies only the superior oblique, was found in these experiments to be just as much a nerve of accommodation as the third. When either the third or the forth nerve was stimulated with electricity near its point of origin in the brain, accommodation always resulted in the normal eye. When the origin of either nerve was covered with a small piece of cotton soaked in a two percent solution of atropine.sulphate in a normal salt solution, stimulation of that nerve produced no accommodation, while stimulation of the un-paralysed nerve did produce it. When the origin of both nerves was covered with cotton soaked in atrophine, accommodation could not be produced by electrical stimulation of either or both. When the cotton was removed and the nerves washed with normal salt solution, electrical stimulation of either or both produced accommodation just as before the atrophine had been applied.

This experiment, which was performed repeatedly for more than an hour by alternately applying and removing the atrophine, not only demonstrated clearly what had not been known before, namely, that the forth nerve is a nerve of accommodation, but also demonstrated that the superior oblique muscle which is supplied by it, is an important factor in accommodation. It was further found that when the action of the oblique muscles was prevented by dividing them, the stimulation of the third nerve produced not accommodation but hypermetropia.

In all the experiments all sources of error are believed to have been eliminated. They are all repeated many times and always with the same result. They seemed, therefore, to leave no room for doubt that neither the lens nor any of the muscle inside the eyeball has anything to do with accommodation, but that the process whereby the eye adjusts itself for vision at different distances is entirely controlled by the action of the muscles on the outside of the globe.”

Quoted from “Better Eyesight Without Glasses,” (1920) by William H. Bates M.D.

 

The Bates Method

The following is based on chapter 24 in “Better Eyesight Without Glasses,” 1943, pp 193-200.

The main objective of the Bates Method is to secure relaxation, first of the mind and then the eyes. Rest always improve vision. Effort always lowers it. Dr. Bates found that the simplest way to rest the eyes is to close them for a period of time and think of something agreeable. Most people find that they benefit from this.

Resting the eyes

Palming is the classic Bates exercise designed to rest the eyes. Rub your hand together and place you palms over your closed eyes with your fingers crossed over your forehead. Successful palming also involves other means of relaxation, such as slow breathing and imagining black. When you can see a field of perfectly black then your eyes are resting maximally.

Palming relax the eyes and can be done many times during the day. It is recommended to palm frequently from, say one minute, rather than for hours at a time.

Sun treatment

The sun is the source of life. Your can benefit from the sun by simple let the sun shine on your closed eyelids for about half a minute. The sunlight will energize your eyes. This practice also help people who are sensitive to light. This condition called photopia is easily treated by sunning, and in most cases the eyes will return to normal after a few days of regular sunning.

Sunning is an ancient tradition in India. The sun is the source of life and sunlight energize your entire visual system.

Simply close your eyes and let the sun shine on your eyelids for about a minute.

Swinging

This involves swinging the body from side to side while looking at something. An eye-chart, a tree, anything with details. When swinging is done well the eyes and visual system begin to relax. Dr. Bates noted that practicing swinging about fifty times before going to bed and just after rising tend to prevent eyestrain during sleep.

Swinging relaxes the eyes and is done by swinging the body without moving the eyes. Imagine that your are painting back and forth with your eyes not moving but your body.

Memory

With normal eyesight the mind is always at rest therefore, Dr. Bates concluded, it is possible to improve eyesight by using the memory. Daily reading of something familiar, such as the eye-chart, at the greatest distance at which they can be seen is a rest to the eyes.

Imagination

Vision is largely a matter of imagination and memory. Since both imagination and memory are impossible without relaxation, the cultivation of these faculties not only improves the interpretation of the pictures on the retina but also improves the pictures themselves.

Flashing and blinking

Since it is effort that spoils the eyesight. Bates noticed that after resting your eyes your eyesight improved for a brief moment after opening the eyes. He called this exercise “flashing” or “blinking.”

Central fixation

With normal vision you see one point very clearly and progressively less and less towards the periphery. Dr. Bates noted that your visual field can be expanded and contracted, consequently the reading of fine print is one of the best visual exercises. The dimmer the light and the closer to the eye the better.

Small objects cannot be seen without central fixation and thus optimal use of your eyes. This idea contradicts what most mothers tell their children. “Always use proper reading light.”

What is written about the Bates Method

While connected with the New York Post Graduate Medical School and Hospital, Dr. Bates improved myopia with many people in the clinic. Those who improved their sight included student doctors. The May 1921 Journal of the Allied Medical Associations states:

“These facts came to the knowledge of the head of the institution (Dr. St. John D. B. Roosa), one of the most prominent ophthalmologists of the day, and were regarded as highly discreditable, since Donders and the other masters of ophthalmology had declared that myopia was [irreversible]. Dr. Bates was accordingly expelled from the faculty, even the privilege of resignation being denied to him.”

Mary Dudderidge writes in the January 12, 1918, issue of Scientific American: “New Light Upon Our Eyes: An Investigation Which May Result in Normal Vision for All, Without Glasses,” pp 53 and 61.

“...It is therefore not a little surprising to find one eye specialist who has actually been [reversing] errors of refraction without glasses for 30 years, and who as the result of a remarkable series of experiments has been able to present evidence which appears to invalidate most of the theories on which the present practice of ophthalmology is based. Dr. William H. Bates of New York is already well known as the discoverer of the properties of adrenaline, an extract from the suprarenal gland of the sheep which is now used all over the world as an astringent and haemostatic; but his remarkable experiments on the eyes of animals and the startling conclusions that he has drawn from them have, as yet, attracted comparatively little attention. Reported only in a few isolated articles, they have not yet found their way into the general literature of the subject and have scarcely been heard of by the lay public. Yet they promise to revolutionize the practice of ophthalmology and are at the present moment of tremendous import to the country.”

Another reason Bates’ research has been ignored and rejected is because few people have studied his work deeply enough to understand it. Some of the principles involved are very subtle, and, on first encounter, even appear incorrect. Optometrist Harris Gruman wrote in his book New Ways to Better Sight:

"Whether it was the result of such investigations that Dr. Bates hit upon his system of [improvement] or whether it was the other way around seems immaterial. In spite of his hypotheses and theories he did hit upon some worthwhile methods of aiding human sight. Time has proved their worth, and for this the world should be grateful ."

Harris Gruman, New Ways to Better Sight
New York: Hermitage House, 1950. pp. 176-177.

Aldous Huxley, after discussing the possible role of the external and internal muscles in accommodation, writes:

“My own guess, after reading the evidence, would be that both the extrinsic muscles and the lens play their part in accommodation. This guess may be correct; or it may be incorrect. I do not greatly care. For my concern is not with the anatomical mechanism of accommodation, but with the art of seeing – and the art of seeing does not stand or fall with any particularly physiological hypothesis. Believing that Bates’ theory of accommodation was untrue, the orthodox has concluded that his technique of visual education must be unsound. Once again this is an unwarranted conclusion, due to a failure to understand the nature of an art, or psycho-physical skill.. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the first and most convincing test of the system is that it works.

Aldus Huxley, The Art of Seeing, New York: Harper Brothers Publishers, 1943.

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biorgraphy, vol 24, pp. 383-4.

BATES, William Horatio, physician, was born in Newark, N.J., Dec. 23, 1860, the son of Charles and Amelia (Halsey) Bates. He was graduated A.B. at Cornell university in 1881 and received his medical degree at the college of physicians and surgeons in 1885. Establishing a practice in New York city, he served for a time as clinical assistant at the Manhattan Eye and Ear hospital and was attending physician at Bellevue hospital, 1886-88, the New York Eye infirmary, the Northern dispensary and the Northeastern dispensary, 1886-98.

He was an instructor in ophthalmology at the New York Post-Graduate medical school and hospital, 1886-91. In his professional work Bates at first devoted his attention to the various organs of the head but finally restricted himself to the eye alone. He resigned his hospital appointments in 1896 and for several years engaged in experimental work. After practicing for several years at Grand Forks, North.Dakota., he returned to New York and was attending physician at the Harlem hospital during 1907-22.

In his researches Bates proved experimentally that the normal fixation of the eye is central, but never stationary, and the technique developed by him for treating imperfect eye sight without the use of glasses was based on this principle. This technique was the practical application of the psychological theory of the field of consciousness, which is predicated as a point of focus, the so-called point of apper- ception, surrounded by a field of increasing vagueness.

His method was to develop central fixation by training the patient in the dual art of relaxing and focusing the eyes. While carrying on his experiments he developed a method of photographing the eye to reveal changes in surface curvature as the eye functioned. The work is discussed in "A Study of Images Reflected from the Cornea, Iris, Lens, and Sclera" (N.Y. Med. Jour., May 18, 1918).

His researches on the influence of memory upon the function of vision are de- scribed in "Memory as an Aid to Vision" (N.Y.Med. Jour., May 24, 1919). In 1894, while seeking to determine the therapeutic effect on the eye of the active principles of the ductless glands, he discovered the stringent and hemostatic properties of the aqueous extract of the suprarenal capsule, later commercialised as adrenalin.

In 1896 he announced this discovery in a paper read before the New York Academy of Medicine. He introduced a new operation for the relief of persistent deafness in 1886, consisting of puncturing or incising the ear drum membrane.

He published a book, "Better Eyesight Without Glasses" (1919), which he had to issue at his own expense, expounding his theories which were for the most part contrary to established ophthalmological practice. He also wrote articles describing his methods. He was a member of the New York State Medical Society and was affiliated with the Dutch Reformed church. He was fond of sports, especially of tennis in which he won several awards and while living in North Dakota was state champion. He was an excellent runner and at the advanced age of fifty-eight was still able to win a prize.

Bates was a quiet, modest man, a serious student of literature and astronomy, with a fondness for children. He was married three times: (1) in 1883, to Edith Kitchell of New York city, by whom he had one son, Halsey Bates; she died in 1886; (2) to Margaret Crawford, who died in 1927, leaving two children, William Crawford, and Milo Bates, wife of Charles McComb; and (3) Aug. 9, 1928, to Mrs. Emily (Ackerman) Lierman, daughter of Robert Ackerman, of Newark, N.J. Bates died in New York city, July 10, 1931.

The National Cyclopaedia of American Biorgraphy, vol 24, pp. 383-4.

Other references

Bulletin of the New York Zoological Society, November, 1914.

William H. Bates M.D. “The Reversal of Errors of Refraction by Education Without Glasses”

New York Medical Journal, May 8, 1915.

 

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