A Perspective On Vision

Posted on January 17, 2019 -

A Perspective On Vision

 

A doctor in the UK has estimated that, since the advent of the smartphone, nearsightedness (myopia) has gone up nearly 35%.   smartphone/myopia

 

In some Asian cities, nearly 90% of the population needs corrective lenses (glasses or contact lenses). In Shanghai, for example, 86% of high school students suffer from myopia. Surely something is wrong here.   Asia/myopia

 

Modern living has made our eyes weak, and herein I am going to put forward one theory as to why that is, and what we may be able to do about it. But first, I will touch on the more obvious problem with too much screen time, and the nature of blue light from computer screens and digital devices.

 

Blue Light
Working on a computer, or reading and viewing on a screen, is more challenging to the eyes than reading a book, or looking at hard copy image. The difference is the computer adds elements of screen contrast, flicker, and glare.

 

Working at a computer gets more difficult, and causes more eye problems, the older we get. The ability to focus on near and far objects starts to diminish after about age 40, leading to a condition called presbyopia. This occurs because the lens of the eye becomes less flexible. Much of this eye damage occurs because of blue light exposure, something well examined by Daniel Georgiev, founder of the popular app, Iris.

 

Daniel Georgiev had perfect vision as a young man, but that changed once he became a computer programmer, spending more than 10 hours per day in front of a computer. He started to experience eye strain, and pain, and soon needed glasses. At this point, Georgiev began to do heavy research into the subject of eye and vision health, soon realizing how damaging long term exposure to computer monitors could be.

 

Deciding to find a solution to this problem, both for himself and others, he eventually created his own software for eye protection, health, and productivity. Thus was born Iris, a variety of software packages that reduce flicker rate on monitors, and adjust the light spectrum depending on whether it is day, or night.

 

For an overview of his material, have a look at his Ted talk video: How technology is killing our eyes | Daniel Georgiev https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HN30fO2I2aU
And, to find out more about Iris software visit his website: https://iristech.co/

 

What Is The Root Cause Of Myopia?
Discussing eye health would not have been complete, without addressing the problems with blue light, and computer screens. Georgiev’s work handily covers that base. What I want to discuss now, is another, overlooked factor in vision.

 

Myopia began long before the advent of computers, so the underlying cause must predate computers and digital devices. Why do we get nearsighted (the main reason people need glasses), and develop presbyopia? And why is this primarily a modern phenomena?

 

There have been many different theories about what causes myopia, and one that used to be scoffed at has recently found some scientific support.

 

Reading
The theory that reading leads to myopia was first postulated by a British eye doctor in 1813. He observed that soldiers, who tended to be illiterate, rarely were myopic, while officers, who were well-educated, often were.

 

Later, in 1883, another doctor ranked 7,500 Dutch military recruits according to former occupation, discovering nearsightedness was more prevalent among the more educated. He found myopia occurred among 2.5% of the farmers and fishermen, 12% among craftsmen doing close handiwork, and up to 32% among scholars.

 

As a society we have for a long time subconsciously made this association between reading and glasses.We assume that people with glasses are more intelligent: in the old days those with glasses were “nerds”.

 

Studies done decades ago, found that teachers would grade the same work higher if the student wore glasses, than if the same work was turned in by a student who did not. I remember when movie stars like Sylvester Stallone and Jean Claude Van Damme would wear non-prescription glasses when doing interviews on t.v., in order that they would be perceived to be more intelligent.

 

Pol Pot (the Cambodian dictator responsible for the “Killing Fields”) wanted to eliminate the intellectual classes, in an attempt to “purify” Cambodian society. As part of his genocide against his own people, he had all the teachers, lawyers, and intellectuals killed. Finally, running out of victims, he turned to those who wore glasses, and also had them killed. Pot also made the connection between glasses and “intelligence” (book-learning).

 

In our culture, which practically worships “intelligence” (however, not emotional intelligence, nor instinctive intelligence), the prevalence of loud, obvious frames for glasses, speaks to this unconscious bias. After all, why wouldn’t everyone just use contact lenses (or get laser eye surgery), unless there were some perceived benefit to wearing glasses? (The nerds have the last laugh, now.)

 

All of this is to point out that there is something to the link between reading and glasses. Now, new research supports the thesis that nearsightedness is related to education, and thus to reading.

 

Why Going To School Is Bad For You. 

A study published June, 2018, in the BMJ, found that the more years a person spends in school, the more likely they are to be myopic. During that study, it was also established it was education that caused myopia, and not the other way around (i.e. people with myopia were more drawn to reading).   education/myopia

 

Let’s look at this conversely. Other research indicates there is a link between the amount of time children spend outside, and the likelihood of developing myopia (more time outside, less occurrence of myopia). Obviously, being in school means less time outdoors, and more time indoors (trading in sunlight for fluorescent light; a whole other issue, but one that is tangentially related), staring at school books (or screens).

 

Debbie Jones, a clinical professor in the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry and Vision Science, suggests many East Asian cultures strongly emphasize high educational standards, which could explain their high rates of myopia.

 

Her research determined that, “for each additional hour a child spend outside per week, their chance of being myopic fell by 14%”. (She recommends that children should spend at least 90 minutes outdoors daily.)

 

Yet, Jones, and the other researchers, were not exactly sure why time outdoors was so important for vision. They believe more exposure to sunlight may be part of the reason, and that focusing on a variety of objects, near and far, was also part of the explanation.

 

“You imagine a kid kicking a soccer ball around, they’re looking at their feet, they’re looking ahead at the net, they’re looking into the distance. So they’re constantly changing that focal range,” she said.

 

Focal Range
Children are generally farsighted (in which you can see distant objects clearly, but objects nearby may be blurry) in early childhood. When they learn to read they need to dramatically draw that focus in, in order to see things up close. Narrowing down focus is done with a visual process called “accommodation”.

 

When our eyes need to focus on something closer than a foot or two away, the ciliary muscles that control the eye lenses has to contract. This “accommodation” makes the lens bulge, bringing the nearby object into focus on the retina. According to the theory of myopia that blames “nearwork”, an excessive use of accommodation will actual modify the configuration of the eye.

 

The more often we make the ciliary muscles contract, and the lens bulge, the more difficult it becomes for the structure to return to its normal state. Accommodation also causes an increase in pressure within the eye. If this process occurs too often, and the intra-ocular pressure stays high for too long, the eyeball often responds by elongating, and remaining that way.

 

This theory has many followers, include members of the American Optometric Society. Of the nation’s 22,500 practicing optometrists, about 9,000 are having their myopic clients perform some vision retraining (eye exercises in which the patient is forced to shift focusing distance to strengthen the eye’s ability to shift focus).

 

Monkey See
A further exploration of accommodation and myopia was done by psychologist Francis Young, one of the leading proponents of the nearwork theory, and director of the primate centre at Washington State University.

 

Dr. Young has raised a colony of nearsighted monkeys, which he accomplished (a dubious “accomplishment”, I must say) by restricting their visual environments to between 14 and 20 inches, thereby forcing them to accommodate full-time. After just a year in this restricted visual environment, all these monkeys developed myopia, at about 5 times the rate of the other monkeys.

 

Prior to his experiments with monkeys, Dr. Young studied three generations of Inuit (in Alaska). The first generation were illiterate nomads, and were found to be extremely farsighted. The next generation, their children, had modern housing, electricity, and some education, were mildly farsighted. But the third generation, the grandchildren of the nomads, who had undergone compulsory education, and both read and watched t.v,, had the same percentage of nearsightedness as the rest of America.

 

According to Dr. Young, “You could look upon myopia as a sensory adjustment to a behavioral situation. The eye is an inherently farsighted organ; when we ask it to behave in a nearsighted way, it changes its shape to perform more efficiently. In an individual who is regularly doing a great deal of nearwork — reading, sewing, playing Pac-Man — the body reacts with changes that make it easier to maintain accommodation”.   Dr. Young

 

Vision and Survival
In the wild, where distance vision is a necessity for survival, there’s no such thing as a nearsighted monkey. Or human, for that matter.

 

Those who follow the nearwork theory believe our continuous reduction in field of vision began with living in cities. There, instead of viewing vast and distant areas of land, sea and sky, we began narrowing our focus down to the city block ahead of us. Regularly reading further reduced our gaze; eventually t.v. watching added to this reductionist tendency, and now texting, and smartphone obsession, have made it so we hardly look up anymore.

 

Currently, the American Optometric Society recommends following the 20-20-20 rule, when working, or watching, on computers or smartphones: “take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away every 20 minutes.”   Computer/vision

 

I would suggest that viewing something only 20 feet away is not sufficient: gazing out the window to a farther distance is preferable. We need to widen our vision (note how political vision has narrowed along with visual acuity), more than that. Both literally and figuratively.

 

Imagine Predators
A couple of years ago, in an attempt to improve my vision, I started playing vision games. The first one I called drones, snipers, and landmines. While walking around outside I would imagine how the eyes of a soldier would work in a war zone.

 

Look up for drones, or aircraft, in the sky, check for snipers in high buildings, check the ground for tripwires, or landmines. Eyes always moving, taking in everything.

 

Our ancestors lived like that, and viewed reality like that, on a daily basis.

 

Maybe no drones to be aware of, but it was a matter of life and death to know what the weather was bringing; predators or enemies could be hiding in the trees, snakes and other poisonous creatures lurked on the ground. Even indoors, our ancestors would have kept their eyes moving: imagine your house could contain poisonous spiders (up in the corners of the ceiling), snakes, and/or scorpions. Every day this would be a danger; all the time.

 

If we lived in a dangerous environment, if we had enemies and/or predators, inside or outside, our eyes would always moving: up, down, near and far, peripheral vision active, eyes moving to the extremes of range. Always.

 

Eyework
Speaking of extremes of range, there is an old eye exercise called the Tibetan Eye Chart, in which the 6 pointed, star-like pattern is followed with the eyes, twice daily. This encourages the eyes to experience a full range of motion.
Tibetan Eye Chart

 

What I like to do, is practice with an internalized version of this chart, whenever I am standing in line, or pumping gas. Take each of the imagined 6 points, and move the eyes as far as they will go in each of the directions. Both clockwise and counterclockwise.

 

When you look up as far as you can, do you feel a strain on the eyes? Now look to the extreme two points on the right (2 o’clock and 4 o’clock), then down (6 o’clock), and to the left (8 and 10 o’clock), then back up to the top again. This should not feel at all painful or difficult, and if it does, eventually, after repeating the exercise frequently, it will not. Also practice rolling the eyes fluidly, both clockwise and counterclockwise.

 

Our eyes are becoming stagnant, and atrophying, mostly because we no longer use them the way they were intended to be used: to keep us alive. We stop exercising and our muscles atrophy, we stop learning and our brains atrophy, so it is with the eyes.

 

Sometimes I think we need a few predators in our environment just to keep us on our toes. I imagine that anyone who lives in a dangerous part of a modern city, keeps their eyes moving, looking for any imminent danger. But I, like many of us, live in an environment that is, perhaps, too safe.

 

Imagine predators, and you will expand your range of vision.

 

Look at the night sky. Hell, look at the day sky. Have you noticed people don’t look up any more? In these days of smartphones, most in fact do the opposite, mainly only looking down, with the occasional glance upwards, to ensure they don’t walk into a light post.

 

Look up at the stars the way your ancestors did. Tilt your head back as far as possible. How long can you do that before it hurts?

 

Practice looking for danger outside; note your head moves to the extreme left and right, and moves up and down in each position, along with the eyes. That should not hurt either. If it does, the neck muscles need work too. Too much tightening and contracting of the neck, and shoulder muscles, will ultimately inhibit blood and oxygen flow to the eyes (and brain). So keeping this area limber, as well as alleviating pain in those areas, will also serve to help vision.

 

You are Looking A Lot, But You Are Not Seeing Anything.
The word vision has many more connotations than just receiving visual information from the environment. A vision can be an imagined goal for the future, one that benefits all of humanity. You may envision a new idea or concept. A person of vision, is one with “unusual discernment or foresight”. A prophet or shaman can have a vision in a dream or a trance, one that may offer guidance for the future.

 

Seeing also means understanding.

 

When we reduce vision to only observing physical phenomena, we are also philosophically reducing what makes us fully human. Our rapidly degenerating vision is correlated with our inability to see other viewpoints (e.g. the political extremes of left and right that seldom find any common ground), of being able to envision a healthy planet (endlessly distracted by blue screens), of being able to see the bigger picture.

 

Annoying Philosophical Interlude (Optional)
We worship at the altar of technology, asking it to solve the very problems it created. And every technology we give service to, takes away our inherent human version.

 

Calculators usurped our math abilities. GPS allows us to no longer need to know the cardinal directions. T.V. and radio means we no longer need to produce our own entertainment: we pay others to make music, and entertain us, when it used to be an ability most people had.

 

Machines make our clothes, industry grows our food, cars negate the need to walk. Image what would happen to us if the fire went out.    Dies the Fire.

 

If we lost electricity, due to massive earth upheavals, or severe solar flares, and had to survive without technology.    Solar Storm of 1859

 

We long for the apocalypse (as evidenced by dystopian, apocalyptic, and zombie, stories and games), because we want a reboot. We no longer have the vision that it is possible to turn things around, and yet when the apocalypse occurs we will be ill equipped to deal with it. We have traded our human survival skills for the ease of technology, but technology is a fickle friend. And, when we can no longer feed it (with electricity), it will desert us, and we will be faced with trying to survive in the absence of all the skills life gave us to get us this far.

 

Could we survive without glasses? At this point, I doubt that I could.
Do you see?

 

Further Research
A newsletter of mine on, “Protecting the Eyes from Macular Degeneration and Blue Screen Damage”.    Protecting the Eyes

 

Unconventional methods of visual improvement developed by Dr. William Bates. “Based on decades of experiments and research, these methods show how to naturally improve vision, which is so impaired in today’s computerized and technology-rich world.”   Dr. Bates

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