Biography of Famous Eye Doctor and Scientist William Horatio Bates Part 2

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

WILLIAM HORATIO BATES (1860-1931).

In addition to palming, shifting, and swinging, Bates also recommended strengthening the eyes by reading under unusually adverse conditions. Patients were told that their eyes were also strengthened by looking directly at the sun for short moments so that the beneficial rays could bathe the retina, a practice which most medical authorities say may easily cause permanent retinal damage. Bates further claimed that squinting, specks in the eye, and even the twinkling of stars were all due to eye strain. While physicists generally subscribe to the idea that twinkling stars are caused by changing currents of air with different densities, Bates claimed twinkling was all in the mind. Twinkling ceases if the eyes are relieved of strain, he said.

"Not only do all errors of refraction and all functional disturbances of the eye disappear when it sees by central fixation, but many organic conditions are relieved," Bates declared. He noted that such physical conditions as glaucoma, incipient cataract, and syphilitic iritis (inflammation of the eye's iris) "have disappeared when central fixation was attained. Relief was often obtained in a few minutes and, in rare cases, this relief was permanent. Infections, as well as diseases caused by the poisons of typhoid fever, influenza, syphilis, and gonorrhea, also have been benefited by it. Even with a foreign body in the eye, there is no redness and no pain so long as central fixation is retained."

Bates taught his method to hundreds of his disciples. "Studios"--o-called because a medical degree was required to run a "clinic"--sprang up from coast to coast. Perhaps one of the best-known teachers who studied under Bates was Mrs. Margaret Darst Corbett of Los Angeles who, in 1940, successfully fought a civil suit forced on her by the organized oculists, optometrists, and ophthalmologists of Southern California for "practicing medicine and optometry without license." Witnesses ranging in age from 5 to 85 who allegedly had regained normal sight after Mrs. Corbett's lessons filled the courtroom. Some 500 persons in Los Angeles alone offered to testify for Mrs. Corbett. Her defense was simply that she was not a doctor. She was a teacher. "I normalize eyes through relaxation," Mrs. Corbett testified. "I do not diagnose or prescribe or medicate. Where there is a possibility of a pathological condition, I refer clients to their own physician for a physical examination and diagnosis. I teach that if a person has any sight at all, he can develop more, not by exercise, prodding, and urging tired eyes still further, not by use of strong glasses, but by easing and relaxing the eyes, letting them see, ceasing to force them." Mrs. Corbett, who died December 2, 1962, won her trial because she proved she enhanced poor eyesight purely through relaxation.

Bates's most distinguished converts included self-styled health authority Bernarr MacFadden and author Aldous Huxley, the victim of an early eye infection which left his corneas permanently scarred. Huxley became a believer in the Bates Method and avowed the Bates Method had greatly benefited his vision. He later (1942) wrote a book, The Art of Seeing, which summarized Bates's theories and included additional forms of Huxley-inspired therapy.

Bates died July 10, 1931, in New York City, but his eccentric theories and methods continued to be popular. At one time, there were more than 50 teachers in the Los Angeles area alone working with patients and teaching the Bates Method. Today, however, while there are several studios in Los Angeles and 2 in San Francisco, there is just one in San Diego, in Kansas City, and in New York City, the latter accepting only referrals from a medical doctor.

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