HOW IMAGINATION HELPS VISION
THE idea of this chapter is to call attention to the part imagination plays in the mechanism of vision, an idea which has no place in a system that ignores the mental part of the perception and interpretation of objects.
From my conception of this work, gained in ten years' experience, it is not possible far me to draw any line separating imagination from memory, in their relation to the mechanism of vision. There can be no imagination in the visual center without memory, and no memory without imagination. In other words, there is a real sense in which these two faculties act to supplement each other. It is helpful to keep this fact in mind always, as this will encourage both factors to enlist with a new power, because of the notice that is given to them.
Whatever impression is made upon the retina is of no valise until it has been interpreted by the mind. That interpretation depends upon memory, which is knowledge, which, in turn, is previous experience of other impressions. It depends very much, also, upon imagination. In the medical dictionary an image is defined as a picture or a conception with more or less likeness to an objective reality. An illusion is defined as a false or misinterpreted sensory image; a false interpretation of a sensory image. In Webster, the word imagination is defined as ". That power or function of the mind whereby we have ideal experience; primarily the power or process of having mental images; broadly the power or process of forming ideal constructions from images, concepts, and feelings with relative freedom from objective restraint . mental images, especially visual images . mental images of things suggested, but not previously seen."
In simple language, memory then is what the mind has to work with, and imagination is what the mind can produce. What conception of the power of the eye and of the mind is in the consciousness of a treatment of an eye which is simply faltering in its function, when the treatment neglects entirely all that is involved in the statements quoted above, from the medical dictionary and Webster s Dictionary? Without referring to the damage glasses do, as explained in previous chapters, it is plain that the treatment with artificial lenses begins by forfeiting much of the constructive power there is in a given mechanism of vision, as shown in the quotations given from the two dictionaries. That is the negative side. For the positive side, even the beginning that Dr. Bates proved, makes it plain that the possibilities, available to any ordinary mind that is interested, are beyond the imagination.
In normal vision, the memory and the imagination are always involved. That is the reason why two pairs of eyes, with apparently equal power of sight, will give the mind different visual impressions. This is constantly true, and depends upon the interpretation, as described above. The same pair of eyes, even when an average normal, will vary in the impressions received, because the mind varies in its conduct, and this influences the whole mechanism of vision. Even a want of attention will result in failure to see an important detail, just as a want of attention is the cause of a failure to remark an important detail in some project under consideration.
In discussing the power of a personality, when his imagination is realized, one says that he has "vision". Often it is quite plain that the difference between vision and lack of vision, in mental power, is an alert and discriminating attention. We unconsciously use the word vision in that relation. But when we think of the eye itself, the foundation of the figure of speech—well, is it not a fair statement to say that when the eye itself is specifically the subject, the imagination remains dormant and we do not actually think at all, not even enough to ask a few simple questions? How many parents, when they have mechanically put a pair of spectacles on their pretty, bright little girl for life, or their healthy, manly boy, have allowed their imagination to call their attention to the plain considerations involved?
In this method, it is necessary to take advantage of the imagination. In those cases where a remarkable cure takes place in a few lessons, or in a single hour, it is the imagination which accomplishes the "miracle". When someone who has automatically accepted some visual dysfunction as a natural occurrence, gets a normal eye back in an hour, something has happened—much like the report given to me as a wisecrack by a patient describing a feeling in his heart. He said "You know, Doc, my heart just stopped beating and began to beat the other way."
When one makes a decision which positively determines some conduct, the emotion which controlled the will is often so far in the background that the person is not conscious of its presence. The patient I reported, who had been blind in his right eye from birth, was told by a well-known eye specialist that if the directions he gave, taught the eye to begin to function, it would be two or three years before there would be any improvement, but the patient was seeing three lines of letters on the Snellen Chart in eight days. That was not because of his memory. His memory had held him back as long as he had had one. The continual consciousness of the blind eye was a continual reminder and a constant inhibition.
It was a strange, new truth that aroused his imagination. The vision that came into his mind through his ears was a mental picture. The shock aroused dormant functions.
A famous Italian artist was taken into an art gallery when he was a boy. Something within him made him say: "I, too, am an artist." Without that imagination which was aroused suddenly in that patient at twenty-two years, the dormant mechanism of his visual center would have remained inactive.
There is no imagination without interest. It is because children have an open-minded interest in seeing letters and pictures that their eager attention creates imagination. There is always an immediate improvement in their vision. It is only when a child lacks this universal child's interest, that there is difficulty in arousing the imagination. An adult without a real desire to recover normal vision is naturally without any imagination on the subject, and there is no mental reaction to overcome the acquired inertia regarding the disability. But, on the other hand, when an adult is interested, there is a power in the adult imagination which is entirely stronger than the simple impulsiveness of the child.
Two young women, strangers, came to me on the same evening, and took their first lesson together. They both were quite near-sighted. One, whom we will call A, had heard of the Bates method only indirectly. The other, whom we will call B, had learned of it from an acquaintance who, herself, had received a remarkable and lasting cure in one hour, came several times, and had some interesting experiences. But her mind was never really interested. She had been impressed by the easy success of her friend, and probably thought it was necessary only to visit the office a few times in order to discard her spectacles. She always had a new alibi, and her evenings were full of other things, and soon she decided she was no longer interested. A was a different type. Her earnest mind was full of questions about the work. She reported different ways in which she put into practice the ideas she was gathering about the mechanism of her vision. The third evening she was so enthusiastic about her experiences, that I suggested she make a contract with herself. She had already discarded her glasses except at her work. She was to continue without them for the first fifteen minutes in the office the next morning—regardless of whether she could see her work or not. She was to put them on at the end of a quarter of an hour, even though she was seeing her work easily. She saw everything without difficulty, and she kept faith by putting on the glasses. But the glasses had lost the fight, as she discovered that she saw better without them. When she returned in a week, she had not worn her glasses for three days. That was some months ago. Since then, she has not worn her glasses at all, has not thought of doing so, and for months has not even given any special attention to her eyes—they are taking such good care of themselves that she does not have to think of them. Her mind, from the first evening, was continually imagining, and carrying out the new ideas; and she says now that she cannot imagine ever wearing glasses again.
That case illustrates the manner in which imagination carries on in the Bates method. A little incident in my own experience illustrates a different aspect of it. Recently, while waiting for a delayed appointment, I placed a 300 watt light with an aluminium reflector about three feet from my eyes, and began blinking at a spot on the bulb for half a minute, then closing my eyes for a minute or so and watching the afterimages which followed each other in the visual center. There would be a crimson moon, which changed its size, back and forth, and theta would be replaced by a green moon which might lose its outline and develop an irregular margin of gold or crimson or pink. The image would fade and be replaced by some vague patches of color, or by no specific picture. Sometimes, when the eyes were closed, the images would remain half a minute only, and not return. Again, when I persisted in silently coaxing them to come back from some place, they would respond. They might be quite vivid, or quite faint. Several times, instead of the variable after-image of the light itself, there would be a perfect ring, which was the edge of the reflector, sharp and bright as though it were itself a light, and the circular field inside was a softer and less bright mass of varying color. In about ten minutes, I changed the practice, and placed a large Snellen Test Card three feet in front of my eyes, with the large 200 foot C on the same level, and threw the reflected light on the large C. I put a spot of black ink, as big as a large period, in the middle of the lower roll of the letter. Blinking at that period for thirty seconds, or sometimes longer, I kept my mind occupied with the thought that the period could be distinguished even on the inky blackness of the letter. The third or fourth time that I closed my ' eyes, the large C stood out vividly, with rolled edges like a big doughnut, and curved ends where the lines broke sharply on the right hand side. The letter was as white as a glazed electric bulb, and the white card was a bold black, and the three-inch flat post that carried the card, and was painted white, was also black. At first there appeared no spot where the ink period was. But in later images there was sometimes an empty space where that period was, which was much larger than the period.
When I had seen, as an after-image, several letters and the card and the post quite clearly many times, appearing a few seconds after I closed my eyes, remaining a few seconds, disappearing and returning, sometimes just as clear and sometimes fainter, and sometimes returning three or four times, a remarkable thing occurred. While I was seeing the vivid white C and seeing also, more or less clearly, about three lines of letters below it, the moon that previously had appeared as either crimson or green when I was practicing with the 300 watt light shining on my eyes, now inserted itself into the picture as white, and covered up the images of the letters I was seeing. I reasoned with the moon, during some seconds, and it disappeared. But it had damaged the clear images of the letters, although they did try to reappear. While I waited and watched, the moon came back, as one picture is substituted for another sometimes in the moving pictures. This behavior was repeated, in varying ways, several times, as I continued the practice of blinking at the spot on the large C, with the reflector throwing a spot-light on the letter. I have had various experiences of the same nature with the light and the card, but this vision was different, and more vivid, and more specific, and more significant than any other.
That particular incident, characteristic of the kind of reactions which are experienced in this work, is to me a sort of parable. The later after-image of the light was the recurring memory of the recent impression made on the visual center by the strong light. It was a kindly impression, but it was evidently a bold impression. My later effort, with the letter, was working likewise with the visual center—the mental part of the mechanism of vision. The stimulus given by the letter, acting as an association of ideas, aroused the memory of the deep impression made by the light, and it automatically came back into the effort to help the visual center. To me it all seems so clear. That is the way every function in the body tries automatically—outside of our consciousness—to help every other function, when the functions are working normally. In this case there was no conflict. I saw the letters vividly, before and after the vision of light. It was the visual center itself, responding to my wish, and the memory (the after-image of the light), and the imagination, aroused into action, all working in harmony. I have proved the relaxing effect of the practice by picking up the telephone book and reading easily any name I put my finger on.
In other chapters, I have described in detail, procedures and practices which give the imagination an opportunity to "Carry On." We all have in our imagination, a power that we scarcely know. The revelations in these simple techniques comprise experiences which open a door that all may enter.