Four Eyes 3 December 2019.

How come you can’t see as well as do other people?  ‘Cause you’re near-sighted.  How come you’re near-sighted?  It’s because your eyes got mushed out of shape.  Why did your eyes get mushed out of shape?  “Cause you read a lot: there’s a strong correlation between short-sightedness and IQ.  Read a lot, do well on tests.  “Gentlemen don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”   Why not?  ‘Cause smart women scare stupid guys, that’s why.

How long has this been going on?  Probably since the dawn of mankind.[1]  People invented “lenses” to improve vision as early as 700 BC.  This was pragmatic: they didn’t understand the science or the causes of failed vision, but they had some idea what to do about it.

So, what happened to people with bad vision in the many days ago?  They got treated as blind.  “Blind” actually is a relative term: even today only about 10 percent of people classified as “blind” can see nothing at all.  So, before glasses, there were a lot of “blind” people. The best you could hope for was bumping into things and getting yelled at by your sister-in-law.  (OTOH, you couldn’t see Thomas Kinkade paintings.)  Worse stuff could happen.  (See: Breughel, “Parable of the Blind” with everyone pitching into a ditch; see: “Old Blind Pew” in Treasure Island, trampled to death by the horses of the revenue men while he tap-tap-taps with his stick along the road outside the Admiral Benbow Inn.)

In 1263 the Medieval English polymath Roger Bacon mentioned that people were using “lenses” to improve their weak sight.  What he meant were glass spheres that had been cut in half.  In 1286 somebody[2] in northern Italy—who is a lot more important to me than is Columbus—invented spectacles.

Then, in 1604, Johannes Kepler, who also was interested in astronomy, got interested in optics.  Kepler figured out that concave lenses correct for near-sightedness and convex lenses correct for far-sightedness.  Things moved ahead fast in the Seventeenth Century.

In the late Eighteenth Century, Philadelphia became the center of progress on optical enhancement in America.[3]  Diagnosis and prescription were pretty rough-and-ready, but people were so glad to be able to see anything at all that they didn’t complain.

In 1843 somebody had the bright idea of making a whole bunch of different lenses and packing them into a diagnostic case for spectacle-makers so that they could figure out what was right for each individual.  In 1862 Hermann Snellen invented the eye-chart to measure vision.  (Ever since old people have been memorizing FELOPZD to fool the DMV.)  In 1888 the first contact-lenses were made.  Then along came Henry Ford and his Model-T car.  Lots of people took to the roads, but many of them couldn’t see very well.  Personal injury attorneys loved this, but a bunch of people thought drivers should have to take a vision test.  In 1938 came plastic contact lenses; in 1952 came the first soft contact lenses, but the Food and Drug Administration did not approve their sale until 1971.

Ignacio Barraquer (1884-1965), a Catalan-Spanish doctor, invented most of modern cataract surgery.  His son Jose Barraquer (1916-1998), a Spanish-Columbian doctor, and Svyatoslav Fyodorov (1927-2000), a Russian doctor, invented what we think of as Lasik surgery.

[1] Do dogs and cats and fish get near-sighted?  Probably, but then they get eaten.  So, the genetic element doesn’t get passed along.

[2] We do not know his/her name.  Every over-muscled moron in the Super Bowl gets a jeweled ring, but we don’t know who invented eye-glasses.  Zoro-H-Aster!

[3] You didn’t get people complaining about how unfair it was, how people were altering Nature’s plan, how it would lead children astray, or saying that people should get rid of their yellow Benjamin Franklin bracelets.

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