Biography of Famous Eye Doctor and Scientist William Horatio Bates Part 1

About the famous eye doctor and scientist William Horatio Bates, history and biography of the man.

WILLIAM HORATIO BATES (1860-1931).

William Horatio Bates exerted a vast influence on thousands of people with serious eye defects during the early 1900s with his belief that glasses were simply "eye crutches" and should be tossed away. Today his system of "eye relaxation" is generally considered to be useless and his theories unscientific quackery. He was, nevertheless, the 1st important figure in the modern cult of replacing spectacles with eye exercises for the treatment of visual defects.

Born in Newark, N.J., Bates graduated from Cornell in 1881 and received his medical degree from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1885. He was a clinical assistant at Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital and attending physician at Bellevue Hospital and later at the New York Eye Infirmary. From 1886 to 1891, Bates, an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist, taught ophthalmology at the New York Postgraduate Medical School and Hospital.

Then began a series of mysterious events. In 1902, he disappeared. Several months later, his wife learned he was working in a London hospital. When she joined him, she found him in a state of exhaustion with no memory of what had happened. Two days later, he vanished again. Mrs. Bates searched for her husband throughout Europe without success. She returned to America and continued her fruitless search until she died. In 1910, a fellow occulist discovered him practicing in Grand Forks, N.Dak., where he had been for 6 years. Bates was persuaded to return to Manhattan and he served as attending physician in Harlem Hospital until 1922. In 1920, he published at his own expense a book titled Cure of Imperfect Eyesight by Treatment without Glasses, a "fantastic compendium," according to one Bates biographer, "of wildly exaggerated case records, unwarranted inferences, and anatomical ignorance."

Bates's Method of Eye Relaxation, as his remedy is described, is based on his theory of accommodation, a term for the focusing process which takes place within the eye when it views a new object at a great or lesser distance. Bates believed that the cause of all refractive errors, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism, was simply "strain" which was, in turn, due to an "abnormal condition of mind." A squint or any other functional disturbance of the eye, for instance, "is simply a wrong thought and its disappearance is as quick as the thought that relaxes. If the relaxation is only momentary, the correction is momentary. When it becomes permanent, the correction is permanent."

The Bates system involves "central fixation," or learning to see without strain. The patients 1st learned to "palm" by covering both eyes with the palms of the hands and trying to think of "perfect black." When a patient was able to see a pure blackness, there was an immediate improvement of sight, Bates believed.

The patient next learned the "shift" and the "swing." By shifting, Bates meant moving the eye back and forth until one had the illusion of an object "swinging" from side to side. The shorter the shift, the greater the benefit, patients were advised.

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