Myopia: A Pernicious Bad Habit
Myopia or shortsightedness may have been in existence for millions of years ever since the human eye as we know it today became part of the gene program which produces the entire human body. The basic optical anatomy of the eye comprises a focusing lens which can project images of objects in the visual field on to the retina. The lens has a large degree of accommodation which allows the image to fall in front of or behind the retina. This large range of accommodation allows the lens to cope with the change in size of the eyeball through natural growth and also to deal with objects at different distances from the eye. In the early years of development we learn to see at all distances, to focus accurately and to use the binocular vision afforded us by two forward facing eyes.
I do not accept that myopia is a disease or a complaint. It is merely a pernicious bad habit in the visual process, produced in the first instance by incorrect use of the eyes when reading print.
Medical Science has tried hard to identify the cause of myopia and has failed to do so. It naturally follows that attempts to prevent it and eliminate it have also been abortive. The problem is one that affects all vertical thinkers, the logical searchers for the truth. They dig a hole and when nothing is discovered they keep digging in the same hole. When a lateral thinker tackles the hole he tries for a while and then gives up. Then he goes off and digs another one!
Few inventions and discoveries are the result of logical thought. Logicians tread the same path every time with little success. Real innovations are accidents like penicillin. A cure for cancer may come about when a scientist is investigating the mating habits of the purple spotted tree frog in the Amazon jungle.
When Edward de Bono coined the term lateral thinking he might have had in mind Darwin and dare I mention his name, Dr W H Bates. Both men were well ahead of their time. It took the ideas of a nineteenth century naturalist to demolish the Garden of Eden; and an American physician to put forward new ideas on refractive errors of the human eye.
In spite of his abysmal anatomical ignorance, his unusual experiments and his wild claims of extravagant cures, Bates was right in one reasoned judgment: myopia is a self imposed condition due to incorrect use of the eyes and hence curable. I researched the problem for more than forty years, getting glimpses of better vision which I knew were the result of variations in pupil size. Then I noticed something that Bates said. I must have read it many times without realising the significance of his seemingly casual aside. He said that the myopic eye never sees as well as the normal eye, even at the nearpoint whether or not correcting lenses are worn.
Like most myopes I could always see wonderfully well at reading distance, with or without glasses. Most traditional professional eye doctors claim that the eye is too long from front to back and the eye focuses the image of distant objects in front of the retina. They fit negative lenses to restore the image to its correct place and then assume that the eye is now normal, with a new starting point and a lens system which matches the eyeball.
When, as is almost universal the myopia becomes worse after a few years the traditionalists are rather cagey in their observations. An optician of mine said, "it tends to settle down" when I queried the decline in my vision. Does the eyeball become progressively longer? How many new starting points can the eye endure?
The extra ocular muscles are sometimes blamed for refractive errors; mysterious pressures within the eye are also suggested as the culprits. Mutant genes are said to be a possibility, and the old standby heredity has come in for a lot of stick.
I have a few ideas myself. How can I be sure that myopia has been in existence for millions of years? How could it be otherwise? Every person on the planet, if he has a flexible lens, whether normal sighted or not produces symptoms of myopia many times during the course of every day. Bates claimed he had seen it occur in so called normal eyes, ranging up to twenty dioptres of myopia. I see no reason to argue with this obvious phenomenon.
The individual who is permanently myopic cannot eliminate it until he knows how. Those with normal sight produce myopia for a fraction of a second and then return to their habitual central fixation and high speed shifting. Their activities are the result of the reflex control of the cerebellum, that part of the brain which stores and operates all learned physical actions. The golfer who persistently slices the ball is just as much a victim of his own cerebellum as is the individual with common refractive errors.
The problem where myopia is concerned is that few people seem to understand how accommodation of the eye takes place. Bates certainly had little knowledge of the subject. To his way of thinking the lens was not a factor in accommodation. Instead he adopted the long discredited hypothesis that the extra ocular muscles altered the shape of the eye. It would seem that Bates was trained in a different school from conventional medical men and with one accord his method was disregarded as quackery.
Then the charlatans in the shape of nature cure quacks saw an opportunity to make a fast buck. The gullible public were quick to rally round the new breed of conmen and the professional eyequacks were laughing all the way to the bank. They were assisted in their promotions by the obliging eye pupil which affects visual acuity by its effect on the depth of field of the lens of the eye. In bright light the pupil contracts and tends to override several dioptres of myopia. When ambient light decreases the pupil dilates and the existing myopia lowers visual acuity considerably.
If a myope really wants to be aware of how bad his vision is without the aid of the smaller pupil, he should visit his ophthalmologist and have him put a few drops of atropine in his eyes. This happened to me recently when I had a test for glaucoma. Under the influence of atropine my pupils enlarged completely and without glasses my visual acuity was worse than I had ever known it before in my life.
Janet Goodrich, a well-known professional vision teacher was once obliged to leave Singapore after making claims of myopia cures. When challenged by the Singapore Eye Institute to substantiate her statements she found out that the doctors intended to see how her clients fared when atropine was used in their eyes. She realised that with pupils dilated her clients' visual acuity would be much reduced and declined the confrontation.
The Bates Method relies for its effect on the activity of the eye pupil. All the Bates drills, such as palming, blinking, flashing and the concentration of the mind on nearby objects in the imagination drills, encourage the contraction of the pupil. This contraction increases the depth of field of the lens and hence improves visual acuity. As it is temporary there is no permanent improvement in vision. Devout addicts of the Bates Method are mainly wishful thinkers and have only themselves to blame when their aspirations fail.
The professional eyequacks are not stupid enough to believe that they can improve myopia. What they can do is teach you how to temporarily control the pupil and affect the depth of field and visual acuity.
This is the worst scenario as portrayed by the NVI gurus. Myopia can be eliminated but not by practising a few exercises at odd times during the day. One has to attack myopia at source, enter the brain computer software and reprogram it in the cerebellum. The whole faulty visual syllabus has to be abandoned and replaced by a correct one.
The conventional experts bury themselves in laboratory experiments, mutilating baby chicks or wretched monkeys in an effort to produce some semblance of credible statistics capable of lasting a brief scrutiny by sceptical colleagues before consigning such meaningless rubbish to the trashcan.
If one requires reliable evidence regarding the prevalence of myopia it is only necessary to consult the obvious statistics which are undeniable. One out of five members of the civilised world develops permanent myopia; two out of five in Japan and China. What is most impressive is the fact that every single one of these individuals, in whatever part of the world he or she lives, develops symptoms of myopia in exactly the same way. In most cases it occurs during the early years of the learning process. There is no training required, no one needs to be shown how, no teacher to coach the method or any diploma to aim for. Unconsciously and insidiously the victim successfully acquires the establishment of long term myopia. It is as easy as falling off a log.
If it is that easy to develop, why is it so difficult to undevelop? The truth is that myopia is very easy to eliminate, always providing that elasticity remains in the lens of the eye. All that is required is to reprogram the brain computer software, the cerebellum.
This sounds like science fiction but is it really? From birth throughout life one programs and reprograms the cerebellum which controls every learned physical movement. Every time we learn a new skill it is not effective until it is installed in the cerebellum and is then used unconsciously. Every person on this planet relies on this part of the brain. Without it we should find it impossible to survive for a second without collapsing in a heap as helpless as a newborn baby kicking its limbs and howling pathetically for attention.
Vision is wholly dependent on the cerebellum. No one knows how long it takes the baby to see effectively, to focus the eyes and become part of its surroundings. We take it for granted that we can see and use our eyes to develop new skills, to become scholars, artisans, musicians, athletes or the thousands of different types of community members.
Whilst we are developing vision in early childhood we are unconsciously feeding the cerebellum with new skills. For millions of years the eye has been the foremost sense, for survival in a hostile environment. It evolved not once but at least forty or more than sixty times to produce independent prototypes. There are still about nine different types of eye in the animal kingdom; ours is the most successful in the human environment. Primitive men with less than perfect sight did not last long in an environment of sharp eyed hungry predators. There was never a surviving gene to find its way to succeeding generations. Natural selection is cruel but brutally efficient.
myopia [mì-o' pi-?], noun short-sightedness.
my'ope ([-op]) noun or
my'ops ([-ops]) a short-sighted person.
myopic ([-op']) adjective short-sighted (also figurative). noun a short-sighted person. [Greek myops short-sighted, from myein to shut, and ops the eye]
The term myopia stems from the appearance of those individuals who screw up their eyes in an effort to see and has no reference to any other characteristic of the eye. Nowadays it is an accepted term for shortsightedness.
It has been pointed out many times by most writers on ophthalmology that although one fifth of the world suffer from established myopia, the vast majority, the four fifths of mankind go through life unscathed although they are subject to the same environmental conditions as their normal sighted brethren. Bates claimed the reason was that the minority strained and the majority did not. Some suggest that strain is caused in numerous ways, boredom, aggressive teachers, fear of failure or any one of the many distractions of the schoolroom. Bates said that relaxation was the obvious cure for myopia and urged myopes to relax at every available opportunity by adopting various drills, both physical and mental. The results are hardly encouraging.
Lateral thinking is required in this instance. Relaxation does not necessarily improve myopia. Learning to see correctly does bring much relaxation. There is a subtle difference here. The most relaxed individuals on the planet are in churchyards and they do not see worth a damn.
I agree with Bates that strain accompanies myopia. People fail to improve their vision because they are vertical thinkers. They are conditioned to accept that myopia is a strain to see distant objects allowing them to see perfectly at the near point. The lateral thinker has realised that it is a failure to see perfectly at the nearpoint which is the CAUSE of ingrained myopia. Once this condition has been established it is not long before the myope discovers that his vision has become worse at distances beyond a few feet. At the near point he appears to see quite well and he loses interest in outdoor activities and prefers the company of books. It can be demonstrated that myopes cannot see perfectly at any point in the range of vision, whether wearing correcting lenses or not. They always focus the images of all objects in the visual field to some point in front of the retina.
With the development of the printing press the educational process really took off. The young were pressganged into schoolrooms and expected to learn or else. More and more facts were presented for consumption and time became the limiting factor for success in a developing world. To cope with the supply of information it became necessary for pupils to read faster and faster. Four fifths managed to do it the correct way; one fifth did not.
What is the difference between these two species, the myopic and the normal sighted when they both share exactly the same environment? Bates suggested that one strained to see whilst the other did not.
Few people pay much attention to their sight until they lose it. They take it for granted. I can remember the development of myopia when I was a child and today I can recall exactly how it happened. Basically it is simply a case of trying to see too much at the same time.
Let us examine the development of myopia. A lot of thinking people believe there are many different causes, some fairly tenable and others quite bizarre. I cannot accept any of these; they are far too difficult for a simple mind like mine to grasp. There are more than a billion myopes on the planet, scattered throughout the civilised world and without exception there is one cause. It has to be simple; otherwise how could it effect every nation on Earth, in exactly the same environment and conditions at roughly the same time, namely developing youth during the educational system? No one deliberately learns to be myopic; there are no courses to attend, no diplomas to aim for.
Some authorities claim that the eyeball elongates to produce myopia. There has been some experimental work on this hypothesis which has produced a few meaningless statistics which have as much relevance to myopia as one's size in shoes. It is said that measurements have been made which prove that myopes have more elongated eyeballs than the normal sighted. There may be some eyeballs which are a teeney-weeney bit larger or smaller than others but they are equally distributed amongst the 6 billion members of the planet whatever their refractive state. How many millions have been measured anyway?
Then there is the old chestnut cited by Bates: that accommodation is controlled by the extra ocular muscles. If you believe that you will accept the fairies who live at the bottom of my garden.
I have already mentioned lateral thinking, the stuff of inventions and discoveries of all kinds. It is generally accepted that being short-sighted is a failure to see distant objects. I say it is nothing of the kind. It is the inability to see clearly and efficiently at the near point. Most myopes see well at reading distance, whether wearing glasses or not. AT LEAST THEY THINK THEY DO. I shall endeavour to show you the truth of my argument. I can assure you that unless you can understand me your chances of eliminating myopia are precisely nil. The vertical thinkers believe that they have to restore distant vision. Lateral thinkers know different; they have to learn to read correctly, with central fixation and ultra fast high speed shifting at the near point particularly when reading, the only way the eye has evolved to perform in conjunction with the brain computer and the cerebellum. As correct reading is established at the near point then clear distant vision returns as surely as night follows day.
To understand how and why myopia develops it is necessary to examine the way in which the eye signals information to the brain. The retina receives an image of the visual field but very little of it is processed in the brain to activate memory paths and the intelligence sector. Only a minute part of the retina, the fovea, is used for this purpose and it might be compared with the finger on the keyboard of a computer passing single units of intelligence to the software within. Our units of intelligence are nothing more than minute currents of electricity flowing in the brain as cell switches are turned on and off. As in manmade computers it is the combinations of these cell pathways, which we accept as intelligence.
Photons of light striking the cells in the retina activate them and cause them to pass tiny electric current flows to the brain. Without constant activity the retinal cells cease to pass information. A still picture on the retina is ineffective and after a second or so the eye becomes temporarily blind. The eye is in constant movement and the fovea shifts at high speed to send minute signals to the brain.
When a child first learns to read he starts with single letters. The eye traces out the shape of the letter sometimes with the aid of finger or a pointer. Each letter is recorded in the brain as a memory pathway. When this pathway is reactivated in the brain the individual recalls it as the letter so laboriously learned by continual shifting of the eye about the letter. As the letters of the alphabet are learned they are assembled to form words. To recall a memory of a word the shifting process has to be repeated in the brain letter by letter. This is a remarkably simple process but as they say, from acorns great oak trees grow. From the 26 letters of the alphabet just think of the wealth of literary knowledge which flows. And it all starts from that succession of little foveal shifts in the infant schoolroom.
We all forget the beginnings. As we progress in the educational system we read faster and faster. The foveal shifting continues at high speed up to about seventy shifts a second. At higher speeds there is a phenomenon known as persistence of vision. A flashing light which exceeds about seventy flashes a second will be seen as a stationary light. Somewhere in the modus operandi the myope comes on stage. He tries to extend the information signalled by the fovea by including the area of the retina adjacent to the fovea. To do this he needs to slightly defocus the image so that it spreads from a sharp point of focus on the fovea to the retinal cells adjacent to it. This is achieved by a change in shape of the lens which becomes more convex. In this way the incoming image is sharply focused at a point in front of the retina and arrives at the retina out of focus. The detail of reading matter is large enough to be seen quite easily at the near point and as far as the myope is concerned he has gained an increase in reading speed. He now sees in blobs of print instead of a rapidly shifting series of minute foveal shifts, letter by letter.
The learner myope then discovers his problems at the distance where detail is so much smaller and needs the rapid foveal shifts to interpret it. His blob reading technique is now a handicap rather than an advantage. He still focuses incoming images in front of the retina. Why does he not focus the image on to the retina instead of in front of it?
It is not normally possible to voluntarily focus the lens of the eye. When one looks from point A to point B the eyes converge or diverge to direct attention to a desired spot in the field of view. This results in a change of the angle subtended by the optical axes of the eyes and it this angle which is ganged to the focusing lens suspended in the ciliary muscle. We learn to judge distance this way as in a mechanical rangefinder. Every movement of the eyes automatically changes the focus whether we like it or not.
The problem now for the myope is this relationship between the angle subtended by the optical axes of the eyes and the focusing mechanism. When looking at distant objects the eyes are parallel. As has been said before you cannot voluntarily focus the eyes unless you move them to a state of convergence or divergence. The degree of focusing is ganged to the angle subtended by the optical axes of the eyes. If the eyes are parallel and the image is focused in front of the retina the only way the focusing can alter and project the image on to the retina is by means of diverging the eyes.
Over the course of time, the myope has developed the habit of looking at blobs of detail at all distances both near and far. His eyes are directed at the same spot in order to present a single picture to the brain. This image is slightly out of focus since the sharply defined one is registered in front of the retina. Wherever he looks there is no sharp image to interpret. At reading distance the position is exactly the same but the detail is large enough to distinguish reasonably well. Central fixation is reduced to a more or less degree and rapid shifting is also absent.
Divergence of the eyes is necessary to flatten the lens; convergence causes the lens to become more convex. When the eyes are directed to the same point of attention either movement of the eyes would immediately result in two different images being presented to the brain. Normally only one image, that of the dominant eye would be accepted. Therefore we always direct the eyes to the same point of attention in the visual field.
The myope has a dilemma wherever he looks but the serious problem becomes more apparent when he looks at a distant object. The optical axes of his eyes are parallel and any attempt to focus involves an attempt to diverge the eyes. If successful not only would this produce a double image but in addition there would be the effort to develop a divergent squint. This will cause discomfort and pain which are the distressing symptoms experienced by all myopes when they try to perform this impossible contortion.
It follows that any conventional attempts to exercise the eyes in an effort to strenghten vision will be abortive. In addition the improvement in visual acuity produced by changes in pupil size has no effect on accommodation although those who experience such temporary effects do not understand the futility of their efforts. In spite of continual disappointments when permanent improvements in vision are not established they still persist in the same old routines prescribed by professional NVI teachers.
The fitting of negative lenses temporarily relieves the situation but almost at once the myope starts to re-establish the old accustomed habit of looking at blobs of detail. Rapid shifting of the normal sighted eye is absent through disuse. The old merry go round goes on and on. The unfortunate ones develop a very high degree of myopia which worsens until presbyopia hardens the lens and prevents further deterioration of the complaint.
The majority of myopes seem to cope adequately with negative lenses. Unconsciously they redevelop a degree of normal central fixation and shifting. Opticians are aware of the limitations of traditional treatment and will admit that myopia does not regress too much in all cases. Those that do are generally ignored as being incorrigible.
The only way to eliminate myopia is to reprogram the cerebellum, an almost impossible task for an adult who has developed myopia as a child and permanently worn glasses of increasingly powerful strength. It can be done but it needs a complete reversal of the myopic habit and the reinstallation of the correct habits of the normal eye. Every time one looks it needs to be done with central fixation accompanied by high speed shifting. How does one do this?
It is quite simple really but as Bates says, it can be exceedingly tedious in the early stages. One attends to the reading of print and practises central fixation on it, letter by letter. There will be little noticeable result for many years. Some will be more successful than others. There will be occasional flickering shifts as the eye builds up speed. Eventually it becomes possible to read with the eye shifting letter by letter. Perhaps after many years the process will become habitual. Few have the dedication to be successful.
Relearning how to read print with central fixation and rapid small scale shifting produces almost miraculous results but it can take a very long time. Once one becomes accustomed to the principle of looking at small areas in rapid succession there are little instances of success in the appearance of real vision. These will instil confidence and inspire further practice. Most convincing of all is the extraordinary relaxation which seems to involve every nerve in the body. As near vision improves so too will distance vision. Logically how could it do otherwise?
Aldous Huxley, in his book The Art of Seeing describes an incredibly simple little device which I found indispensable in practising central fixation and high speed shifting when reading. It consists of a piece of black card about the size of a book page with a horizontal slot cut in the middle. The width of the slot is arbitrary; I find two or three lines about right. The card blots out much of the printed material and encourages attention to be directed to the print in the slot thus avoiding the tendency of the myope to stare.
As one progresses one becomes aware of a blackening of the print and a concentration on small areas of the print, individual letters or parts thereof. There is also a noticeable feeling of relaxation as previously mentioned.
Since the myope has been used to gobbling up whole chunks of printed material at high speed, to suggest that he slows down his reading to such an extent will hardly be easy, especially as he needs speed to cope with his job of earning a living. In time the new correct reading habit will replace the old one and reading speed with rapid shifting will gradually build up. As I emphasise, much practice is required. If it is any consolation it is the only way back to normality. There is no other way!