My boss sits me down in this comfortable optometrist chair and asks me to remove my glasses and find the lowest line I can read on the eye chart.
He then hands me a pair of pinhole glasses and asks me to repeat the exercise.
Lo and behold, I can read smaller print.
A certified low vision therapist knows what this means; a “medical intuitive”, not so much.
The book is called Seeing Without Glasses: A Step-by-Step Approach to Improving Eyesight Naturally. It was written by “Roberto Kaplan, O.D., M.Ed.”, a smiling, middle-aged man with blue hair who is, according to the back cover, “an internationally acknowledged scientist” (but what does it mean to be internationally acknowledged as a scientist?), “a medical intuitive” (and, here, the pseudoscience bell starts ringing in my ear like deafening tinnitus), “a photographic artist, and a former optometrist who is at the leading edge of twenty-first century vision care” (who takes the roll call on the “edge”, I wonder).
The book sits on my desk. I read about a third of it. I would have thrown it out the window but it belongs to my boss. He picked it up from a bargain bin, recognizing its title and wondering what the fuss was about.
Distilling the essence of the book reveals this precious nugget: the author believes in The Secret. The central revelation of the literary sensation The Secret is that merely wishing for something (really hard) makes it happen. It literally flies in the face of reason and fully embraces wishful thinking. If I want to be rich, I need to think hard about being rich. If I want to fix my eyesight, according to Roberto Kaplan, I need to want better eyesight.
As with most nonsense, the author begins with scientific-sounding affirmations and slowly brings the reader over to Crazy-Land.
He believes optometrists are doing something wrong by prescribing stronger corrective lenses as a person’s eyesight wanes with age: “It would stand to reason that ‘corrective’ tools like lenses would eventually be removed once the therapy is completed. This, however, is not the case. Lens prescriptions typically become stronger over time, which leads to greater and greater dependency on the corrective devices, which is as insidious as a dependency on sugar, drugs, or alcohol.” Apart from corneal and cataract surgeries, there is no scientific way around this “dependency” when it comes to altering the refractive power of the eye. The fallacy he commits is in insinuating that a therapy must be finite and that its goal must be complete rehabilitation. It would be like saying that a walker fails as a corrective tool because the 80-year-old who uses it grows dependent on it and never learns to walk without it.
His alternative consists in training your eyes to see better again through the exercises he prescribes. One exercise consists of wearing an eye patch over your better eye for four hours a day. But don’t worry: in order to make this fun for everyone around you, he suggests adorning the patch with a whimsical sticker. By covering your good eye, he claims your weaker eye will learn to compensate. Affirmations of the kind are unsubstantiated by science. Chapter 13 of this book is dedicated to the wearing of pinhole glasses, of the sort my boss lent me for the test, to improve your sight. They reduce light scatter which is why vision is temporarily improved while wearing them. A similar effect can be achieved through squinting. Pinhole glasses are used as diagnostic tools as they can differentiate, for instance, between a central or peripheral cataract. In 1993, the Federal Trade Commission was very clear: “pinhole eyeglasses do not cure, correct or ameliorate specific vision problems”. The same judgment targeted eye exercises of the kind Roberto prescribes in his book: “the defendants’ [three companies and five individuals] eye-exercise programs do not strengthen muscles or improve vision; nor do they reduce or eliminate the need for prescription lenses”.
In the very first pages of Seeing Without Glasses, Roberto compounds his ignorance of optometry with a basic lack of understanding of biology and medicine. He rather spectacularly claims that shallow breathing deprives the eyes of nutrients because they are far from the heart and lungs! The fallacy here is quite transparent. Our cardiovascular system is quite capable of carrying enough nutrients to every cell in our body. By the author’s logic, our feet should have long atrophied and fallen off from lack of sugar and oxygen. He similarly warns against eating processed food, claiming they will make your heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys work overtime processing the food you eat and “your eyes will suffer the consequences”.
Even a single cup of coffee can drastically and rather quickly affect your vision. He gives the anecdotal evidence of a man who had cut out “red meat, alcohol, sugar, dairy, and processed foods” but who yielded to temptation one night and had a cup of coffee. “Within thirty minutes,” the author writes, “Eric’s vision-fitness without glasses had dropped so dramatically that his wife had to lead him by the arm from the restaurant.” This is all nonsense, of course. If “Eric” had drunk five pitchers of beer instead of coffee, I might be more inclined to believe the ocular consequences.
Roberto is an advocate of vitamins and minerals in immediately correcting your “vision-fitness”. While there is no convincing evidence that routine consumption of multivitamins and mineral supplements are good for your general health or for the prevention of macular degeneration, two trials (AREDS and AREDS2) have demonstrated that a particular combination of nutritional supplements—vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, copper, and either beta-carotene or lutein and zeaxanthin—can help reduce the risk of a preexisting macular degeneration worsening. The fact that a particular combination of supplements has been shown to work in reducing the risk of progression (but not preventing the onset) of one particular eye disease does not mean that supplements can be used willy-nilly to improve general eye sight.
None of this matters. Once Roberto has lured his reader into buying these pseudoscientific claims, he can broaden his scope to include mysticism: “Seeing Without Glasses presents a bridge between the technology of Western medical science and the wisdom of intuitive healing,” he writes before showing his obsession for shamans. “Like the shaman, [the modern preventative eye doctor] views the physical eye as a mirror of the mind’s eye. […] The obvious and ideal situation is to combine Western and traditional shamanistic approaches….” Is it becoming clearer why he calls himself “a medical intuitive”?
So what is really causing these eye problems, like glaucoma and nearsightedness? In his more scientific chapters, it’s shallow breathing, vitamin deficiencies, and bad food which either burden your innards, trigger chemical changes in your eyes, or cause an allergic reaction. In his more esoteric passages, it’s psychological problems and spiritual blockages that are the true culprits. He suggests that one of the causes of nearsightedness is the fear of seeing the future; one of the causes of glaucoma is feeling filled with internal pressure; and that the gift or lesson to learn from macular degeneration is to “reconnect to the central focus of life”.
Who is this Deepak Chopra wannabe?
There is no such thing as alternative medicine. There is medicine that works and failed experiments. One learns to recognize the hallmarks of pseudoscience: reading a book like Seeing Without Glasses reminded me of the tell-tale signs.
Roberto Kaplan, the author, also goes by the name Pashya Roohan. Post-enlightenment name change? Check.
He gives a seven-day seminar based on his book to help other people “see without glasses”. Lucrative seminars based on book? Check.
He also teaches “The Love SeminarTM, an in-depth seven-day retreat, with his wife, Gabriela Kaplan”. Do I need to comment on this one?
In the epilogue of his book on improving eyesight, he suddenly starts writing about politics, ecology, and sociology. “Unnecessary killing, chopping down precious forests, and contaminating the Earth’s soil with chemical waste are some examples of our blindness.” And he adds one more heap of eye-problem causative agents to processed food, vitamin deficiencies, shallow breathing, and lack of volition: “the effects of television, childhood abuse, dysfunctional families, insufficient nurturing, and other modern-day problems are revealing themselves in the breakdown of our eyes and an inability to convey vision as we once could.” Random comment on topics unrelated to his field which make him appear wise and knowledgeable? Check.
Finally, the kicker comes the last few pages of his book in which another potential income is revealed. He sells a variety of audiotapes as part of his vision-fitness program, with titles such as “Relax and See” (“Dr. Kaplan’s calming voice guides you into a deep relaxation, while a female voice provides audible affirmation for your clear vision”), “Letting Go” (“The cells and structure of your eyes have the ability to regenerate, and it is happening all the time. Listening to the special audiotape for your specific eye condition focuses your attention on positive ways to return healthy visual function to your eyes”); as well as kits to practice the exercises prescribed in his book.
He can also record a “personalized self-healing audiotape” following a 15-minute phone consultation!
Wishful thinking does not correct vision; science does. Roberto (or Pashya) asks us to see without glasses. I would rather keep my glasses and see with greater clarity the nonsense he peddles.