William Horatio Bates was a New York ophthalmologist who claimed that poor vision could be cured through eye exercises. He was quite well known in the 1920s and 30s.
One of his eye exercises was called "nose writing." Here it's described by Margaret Darst Corbett (an "authorized instructor" of his method) in her 1953 book How to Improve Your Sight:
Aldous Huxley was also a fan of the 'Bates Method' and of nose writing, which he described in his 1942 book The Art of Seeing:
Another excellent procedure, which is simultaneously an exercise in mind-body coordination, an imagination drill, and a small-scale shift, is "nose-writing." sitting down comfortably in an easy chair, close your eyes and imagine that you have a good long pencil attached to the end of your nose. (Lovers of Edward Lear will remember his pictures of the 'Dong.') Equipped with this instrument, move your head and neck so as to write with your protracted nose upon an imaginary sheet of paper (or, if the pencil is thought of as being white, on an imaginary blackboard) eight or nine inches in front of your face.
I don't think mainstream ophthalmologists have ever put any stock in the benefits of nose writing, but it still has promoters. See the video below.
June 1955: Peter Barr struck the palm of his left hand with his right fist to stress a point while arguing with his wife. And suddenly he was able to see again. He had been completely blind for three years.
London Daily Telegraph - June 3, 1955
Other cases of accidental cures we've previously posted about:
I'm surprised someone isn't selling a battery-operated version of these today as a gag gift. Wouldn't even need to be for motorists. Perfect for anyone out for a stroll in the rain.
The Oklahoma Freedom Call - Feb 8, 1934
"Miss Paddie Naismith, noted English racing chauffeur, is shown wearing the very latest in motor modes, rain goggles, with wipers 'n' everything. A small fan, you can see it over the bridge of the nose, operates the wipers when the car is travelling at speeds in excess of 15 M.P.H. Its inventor is L.A.V. Davoren of London." — International News Photo, Oct 1933 image source: reddit
'Swindle's Ghost' is a term for an optical illusion that some psychologists have offered as a possible scientific explanation for ghost sightings. Actually, I doubt that many sightings are a result of this phenomenon, but I like the name.
Newsday Special Correspondent Paul Brock (May 15, 1967) offered this explanation:
One after-image, which psychologists believe has given rise to many reports of nocturnal apparitions, is called "Swindle's Ghost." It was first described by the American psychologist P.F. Swindle, about 45 years ago.
It can be summoned up by anybody. Using no more ectoplasm than a table lamp, friends can join you in this weird experiment, right in your own living room. Choose a dark moonless night and draw the drapes securely so that no stray light from street lamps or passing cars enters the room. Group the chairs near a table or floor lamp with one person directly alongside it to switch it on and off.
First, everyone must remain in the darkened room for at least 10 minutes before the experiment begins, so that the eyes can adjust completely to the darkness. Then, each ghosthunter must look steadily toward the lamp but not directly at it. They must keep perfectly still and keep the eyes from moving during the time the room will be illuminated and immediately afterward.
Now turn on the lamp for a full second. Turn it off. Shortly after you will see the whole scene loom up in the darkness with startling clarity, and the ghost impression will last for some time. Not only will everything appear exactly as it was when the light was on, but many precise details will be evident which could not possibly have been noted during the brief illumination...
The same optical illusion occurs when someone reports that he has seen a ghost in a graveyard at night. If a man is passing a graveyard at night and the moon breaks through the clouds just as he is opposite a white tombstone, in a few minutes he might see a vague white form loom up before him. The moon's illumination has created the 'ghost' which the man actually does see, but which is only an after-image— in the image of "Swindle's Ghost."
Swindle observed that if one experiences a very bright flash, one achieves a very powerful positive afterimage that may last over a period of hours. "Swindle's Ghost," as it is referred to occasionally, is a conscious image sustained purely by cortical activity; it is an image created by a stimulus that is not present during later observation. In spite of the absence of a distal stimulus, the image is very real. Observations by Gregory, Wallace, and Campbell (1959) and Davies (1973) attests to just how real it is; if a Swindle's Ghost image is a corridor, and one walks down it in total darkness, one seems to be walking, briefly, through his or her own afterimage.
The illustration shows an experiment by the embalmer W.W. Harris to test the efficacy of injecting embalming fluid through needles inserted at the corners of the eyes. Harris showed that the fluid would come out the veins and arteries in the neck— and if the head were still attached to a body, would then presumably spread throughout the rest of the corpse.
1927: Scientist W.E. Bailey predicted that, in the far future, our descendants may have only "one large, central, cyclopean eye".
Of course, who knows what humans may look like in a million years (if there are even any of us still around), but his argument sounds plausible enough to me (with my limited knowledge of neuroscience). Basically he argued that, over the past several million years, our brains have devoted more space to speech, and less to vision. Extrapolating that trend into the future, he concluded that the eventual merging of our eyes into one would be a more efficient use of the brain's resources, and so will probably happen.
Minneapolis Star Tribune - Dec 4, 1927
The gradual merging of man's two eyes into one may come about through the process of evolution, according to the predictions which W.E. Bailey makes in the Scientific American.
"Man's field of view," writes Mr. Bailey, "will become smaller and smaller. This, because his need of a wide field is growing less and less. This I say with full realization that we live in an age of automobiles, and that these vehicles render desirable a wide field of view. The automobile is probably a very transitory phenomenon. I even believe that, in the course of countless ages, the two human eyes will come closer together, the bridge of the nose will further diminish and sink (just as the animal snout, in man's line of descent, has been doing for vast aeons of time) and, finally, man's two eyes will again become one—just one large, central, cyclopean eye.
"It is likely that the merely servient (left) eye will shrink away (as the pineal eye has already done) so that the right eye will become the cyclopean. Certain it is that the left eye, even today, is being used less and less continually. Man's binocular and stereoscopic visions are being destroyed. That is the price he pays for his speech center.
"The great cyclopean eye, however, will regain stereoscopic vision by developing two maculae in the one eye, just in the fashion in which many birds have stereoscopic vision in each eye now. Although the field of view will then be narrower than now, the eye will probably be microscopic and telescopic; it will be exceedingly acute for colors, for motion, and for form; and finally, most important of all, it will probably be able to perceive as light many forms of energy which now produce in human eyes no sort or kind of perception.
"Because of the development of a speech center in man, there has come about what is called dominancy and serviency in human eyes, a phenomenon not found in other mammals. This means that, in the human, the brain does most of the seeing through one eye, even when both eyes are open. Dr. Thomas Hall Shastid, ophthalmologist of St. Luke's Hospital, Duluth, has found that from 95 to 100 per cent of the detail of any object comes through the right eye if the person be right-handed; while if the person be left-handed the left eye as a rule, but not always, takes up the major part of the detail. This condition, which he has been unable to observe in any other animal, may eventually result in consequences of vast importance to humanity."
Useless Superpower: In the 1970s, Chinese researchers investigated reports of children who had the unusual ability to read with their armpits. The kids supposedly could describe what was written on folded pieces of paper tucked beneath their armpits. And not just their armpits. Some kids could see with their ears, hands, or feet.
After careful study, the researchers concluded that, yes, the children did seem to have this ability.
Wang Qiang and Wang Bin sat in the middle of the room and the observers sat in front and behind them. The lamp in the room was not very bright. They began with pieces of paper that had been written on before the test. They were placed in the ears of Wang Qiang and Wang Bin and the two girls were allowed to hold it in with their hands. After a little while, both girls said that there was no image and wanted to test it under their armpits.
Therefore, other pieces of paper were written on in another room by Shen Hanchang and Zhu Chiayi. The papers were folded twice and squeezed through the shirt from the backs of the subjects and placed under their armpits. The two girls held the sample against them with their hands. Besides the two writers, no one else in the room knew what was written on the paper.
After 2 minutes 40 seconds, Wang Qiang said that she "recognized" it. Everyone told her not to speak but to write it down on the side. She wrote a "3" and also wrote "blue". They opened the paper and found there was a "3 6" written with a blue ball point pen. The "3" and the "6" were separated some distance and thus she had recognized one half.
I jokingly referred to armpit reading as a useless superpower, but the Chinese researchers would disagree. They concluded their study with this remark:
Research on this type of special physiological phenomenon will not only have a deep and far reaching influence on medical science but will also influence the semiconductor industry.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.