THE eye is a miniature camera, corresponding in many ways very exactly to the inanimate machine used in photography. In one respect, however, there is a great difference between the two instruments. The sensitive plate of the camera is equally sensitive in every part; but the retina has a point of maximum sensitiveness, and every other part is less sensitive in proportion as it is removed from that point. This point of maximum sensitiveness is called the “fovea centralis,” literally the “central pit.”
The retina, although it is an extremely delicate membrane, varying in thickness from one-eightieth of an inch to less than half that amount, is highly complex. It is composed of nine layers, only one of which is supposed to be capable of receiving visual impressions. This layer is composed of minute rodlike and conical bodies which vary in form and are distributed very differently in its different parts. In the center of the retina is a small circular elevation known, from the yellow color which it assumes in death and sometimes also in life, as the “macula lutea,” literally the “yellow spot.” In the center of this spot is the fovea, a deep depression of darker color. In the center of this depression there are no rods, and the cones are elongated and pressed very closely together. The other layers, on the contrary, become here extremely thin, or disappear altogether, so that the cones are covered with barely perceptible traces of them. Beyond the center of the fovea the cones become thicker and fewer and are interspersed with rods, the number of which increases toward the margin of the retina. The precise function of these rods and cones is not clear; but it is a fact that the center of the fovea, where all elements except the cones and their associated cells practically disappear, is the seat of the most acute vision. As we withdraw from this spot, the acuteness of the visual perceptions rapidly decreases. The eye with normal vision, therefore, sees one part of everything it looks at best, and everything else worse, in proportion as it is removed from the point of maximum vision; and it is an invariable symptom of all abnormal conditions of the eyes, both functional and organic, that this central fixation is lost.
These conditions are due to the fact that when the sight is normal the sensitiveness of the fovea is normal, but when the sight is imperfect, from whatever cause, the sensitiveness of the fovea is lowered, so that the eye sees equally well, or even better, with other parts of the retina. Contrary to what is generally believed, the part seen best when the sight is normal is extremely small. The text-books say that at twenty feet an area having a diameter of half an inch can be seen with maximum vision, but anyone who tries at this distance to see every part of even the smallest letters of the Snellen test card – the diameter of which may be less than a quarter of an inch – equally well at one time will immediately become myopic. The fact is that the nearer the point of maximum vision approaches a mathematical point, which has no area, the better the sight.
The cause of this loss of function in the center of sight is mental strain; and as all abnormal conditions of the eyes, organic as well as functional, are accompanied by mental strain, all such conditions must necessarily be accompanied by loss of central fixation. When the mind is under a strain the eye usually goes more or less blind. The center of sight goes blind first, partially or completely, according to the degree of the strain, and if the strain is great enough the whole or the greater part of the retina may be involved. When the vision of the center of sight has been suppressed, partially or completely, the patient can no longer see the point which he is looking at best, but sees objects not regarded directly as well, or better, because the sensitiveness of the retina has now become approximately equal in every part, or is even better in the outer part than in the center. Therefore in all cases of defective vision the patient is unable to see best where he is looking.
This condition is sometimes so extreme that the patient may look as far away from an object as it is possible to see it, and yet see it just as well as when looking directly at it. In one case it had gone so far that the patient could see only with the edge of the retina on the nasal side. In other words, she could not see her fingers in front of her face, but could see them if held at the outer side of her eye. She had only a slight error of refraction, showing that while every error of refraction is accompanied by eccentric fixation, the strain which causes the one condition is different from that which produces the other. The patient had been examined by specialists in this country and Europe, who attributed her blindness to disease of the optic nerve or brain; but the fact that vision was restored by relaxation demonstrated that the condition had been due simply to mental strain.
Eccentric fixation, even in its lesser degrees, is so unnatural that great discomfort, or even pain, can be produced in a few seconds by trying to see every part of an area three or four inches in extent at twenty feet, or even less, or an area of an inch or less at the near-point, equally well at one time, while at the same time the retinoscope will demonstrate that an error of refraction has been produced. This strain, when it is habitual, leads to all sorts of abnormal conditions and is, in fact, at the bottom of most eye troubles, both functional and organic. The discomfort and pain may be absent, however, in the chronic condition, and it is an encouraging symptom when the patient begins to experience them.
When the eye possesses central fixation it not only possesses perfect sight, but it is perfectly at rest and can be used indefinitely without fatigue. It is open and quiet; no nervous movements are observable; and when it regards a point at the distance the visual axes are parallel. In other words, there are no muscular insufficiencies. This fact is not generally known. The textbooks state that muscular insufficiencies occur in eyes having normal sight, but I have never seen such a case. The muscles of the face and of the whole body are also at rest, and when the condition is habitual there are no wrinkles or dark circles around the eyes.
In most cases of eccentric fixation, on the contrary, the eye quickly tires, and its appearance, with that of the face, is expressive of effort or strain. The ophthalmoscope (see note 1) reveals that the eyeball moves at irregular intervals, from side to side, vertically or in other directions. These movements are often so extensive as to be manifest by ordinary inspection, and are sometimes sufficiently marked to resemble nystagmus (see note 2). Nervous movements of the eyelids may also be noted, either by ordinary inspection, or by lightly touching the lid of one eye while the other regards an object either at the near-point or the distance. The visual axes are never parallel, and the deviation from the normal may become so marked as to constitute the condition of squint. Redness of the conjunctiva and of the margins of the lids, wrinkles around the eyes, dark circles beneath them and tearing are other symptoms of eccentric fixation.
Eccentric fixation is a symptom of strain, and is relieved by any method that relieves strain; but in some cases the patient is cured just as soon as he is able to demonstrate the facts of central fixation. When he comes to realize, through actual demonstration of the fact, that he does not see best where he is looking, and that when he looks a sufficient distance away from a point he can see it worse than when he looks directly at it, he becomes able, in some way, to reduce the distance to which he has to look in order to see worse, until he can look directly at the top of a small letter and see the bottom worse, or look at the bottom and see the top worse. The smaller the letter regarded in this way, or the shorter the distance the patient has to look away from a letter in order to see the opposite part indistinctly, the greater the relaxation and the better the sight. When it becomes possible to look at the bottom of a letter and see the top worse, or to look at the top and see the bottom worse, it becomes possible to see the letter perfectly black and distinct. At first such vision may come only in flashes. The letter will come out distinctly for a moment and then disappear. But gradually, if the practice is continued, central fixation will become habitual.
Most patients can readily look at the bottom of the big C and see the top worse; but in some cases it is not only impossible for them to do this, but impossible for them to let go of the large letters at any distance at which they can be seen. In these extreme cases it sometimes requires considerable ingenuity, first to demonstrate to the patient that he does not see best where he is looking, and then to help him to see an object worse when he looks away from it than when he looks directly at it. The use of a strong light as one of the points of fixation, or of two lights five or ten feet apart, has been found helpful, the patient when he looks away from the light being able to see it less bright more readily than he can see a black letter worse when he looks away from it. It then becomes easier for him to see the letter worse when he looks away from it. This method was successful in the following case:
A patient with vision of 3/200, when she looked at a point a few feet away from the big C, said she saw the letter better than when she looked directly at it. Her attention was called to the fact that her eyes soon became tired and that her vision soon failed when she saw things in this way. Then she was directed to look at a bright object about three feet away from the card, and this attracted her attention to such an extent that she became able to see the large letter on the test card worse, after which she was able to look back at it and see it better. It was demonstrated to her that she could do one of two things: look away and see the letter better than she did before, or look away and see it worse. She then became able to see it worse all the time when she looked three feet away from it. Next she became able to shorten the distance successively to two feet, one foot, and six inches, with a constant improvement in vision; and finally she became able to look at the bottom of the letter and see the top worse, or look at the top and see the bottom worse. With practice she became able to look at the smaller letters in the same way, and finally she became able to read the ten line at twenty feet. By the same method also she became able to read diamond type, first at twelve inches and then at three inches. By these simple measures alone she became able, in short, to see best where she was looking, and her cure was complete.
The highest degrees of eccentric fixation occur in the high degrees of myopia, and in these cases, since the sight is best at the near-point, the patient is benefited by practicing seeing worse at this point. The distance can then be gradually extended until it becomes possible to do the same thing at twenty feet. One patient with a high degree of myopia said that the farther she looked away from an electric light the better she saw it, but by alternately looking at the light at the near-point and looking away from it she became able, in a short time, to see it brighter when she looked directly at it than when she looked away from it. Later she became able to do the same thing at twenty feet, and then she experienced a wonderful feeling of relief. No words, she said, could adequately describe it. Every nerve seemed to be relaxed, and a feeling of comfort and rest permeated her whole body. Afterward her progress was rapid. She soon became able to look at one part of the smallest letters on the card and see the rest worse, and then she became able to read the letters at twenty feet.
On the principle that a burnt child dreads the fire, some patients are benefited by consciously making their sight worse. When they learn, by actual demonstration of the facts, just how their visual defects are produced, they unconsciously avoid the unconscious strain which causes them. When the degree of eccentric fixation is not too extreme to be increased;, therefore, it is a benefit to patients to teach them how to increase it. When a patient has consciously lowered his vision and produced discomfort and even pain by trying to see the big C, or a whole line of letters, equally well at one time, he becomes better able to correct the unconscious effort of the eye to see all parts of a smaller area equally well at one time…
In learning to see best where he is looking it is usually best for the patient to think of the point not directly regarded as being seen less distinctly than the point he is looking at, instead of thinking of the point fixed as being seen best, as the latter practice has a tendency, in most cases, to intensify the strain under which the eye is already laboring. One part of an object is seen best only when the mind is content to see the greater part of it indistinctly and as the degree of relaxation increases the area of the part seen worse increases, until that seen best becomes merely a point.
The limits of vision depend upon the degree of central fixation. A person may be able to read a sign half a mile away when he sees the letters all alike, but when taught to see one letter best he will be able to read smaller letters that he didn’t know were there. The remarkable vision of savages, who can see with the naked eye objects for which most civilized persons require a telescope, is a matter of central fixation. Some people can see the moons of Jupiter, with the naked eye. It is not because of any superiority in the structure of their eyes, but because they have attained a higher degree of central fixation than most civilized persons do.
Not only do all errors of refraction and all functional disturbances of the eye disappear when it sees by central fixation, but many organic conditions are relieved or cured. I am unable to set any limits to its possibilities. I would not have ventured to predict that glaucoma, incipient cataract and syphilitic iritis could be cured by central fixation; but It is a fact that these conditions have disappeared when central fixation was attained. Relief was often obtained in a few minutes, and, in rare cases, this relief was permanent. Usually, however, a permanent cure required more prolonged treatment. Inflammatory conditions of all kinds, including inflammation of the cornea, iris, conjunctiva, the various coats of the eyeball and even the optic nerve itself, have been benefited by central fixation after other methods had failed. Infections, as well as diseases caused by protein poisoning and the poisons of typhoid fever, influenza, syphilis and gonorrhea, have also been benefited by it. Even with a foreign body in the eye there is no redness and no pain so long as central fixation is retained.
Since central fixation is impossible without mental control, central fixation of the eye means central fixation of the mind. It means, therefore, health in all parts of the body, for all the operations of the physical mechanism depend upon the mind. Not only the sight, but all the other senses – touch, taste, hearing and smell – are benefited by central fixation. All the vital processes – digestion, assimilation, elimination, etc. – are improved by it. The symptoms of functional and organic diseases are relieved. The efficiency of the mind is enormously increased. The benefits of central fixation already observed are, in short, so great that the subject merits further investigation.