Imagine A World Without The Optical Lens
Atlantic Monthly recently released its annual technology issue, and this year it included their list of The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since The Wheel. #5 on that list – ahead of television, the internet, air conditioning, cement, irrigation and many other things most people could not live without – is the optical lens:
Refracting light through glass is one of those simple ideas that took a mysteriously long time to catch on. “The Romans had a glass industry, and there’s even a passage in Seneca about the optical effects of a glass bowl of water,” says Mokyr. But it was centuries before the invention of eyeglasses dramatically raised the collective human IQ, and eventually led to the creation of the microscope and the telescope.
Think about what your everyday life would be like if no one ever figured out how to harness the phenomenon of light slightly changing direction as it passes through glass. Over time, we as humans have been able to use this distortion to our collective advantage, as it can bring into focus matter invisible to the naked eye due to either size or distance as well as compensate for abnormalities of the cornea some of us are simply born with. Just imagine a world in which those with anything but a perfectly shaped eye were doomed to a life of poor vision and all the danger and inconvenience that comes along with it.
The same technology that gives us a view of the heavens and an understanding of the building blocks of life and matter can help your child more accurately see the chalkboard or allow you to more comfortably read in bed. And all it takes to harness the power of one of the most revolutionary innovations in the history of mankind is a simple trip to the optometrist.