“An experiment to put pressure on the eye”


I tooke a bodkine gh & put it betwixt my eye & [the] bone as neare to [the] backside of my eye as I could: & pressing my eye [with the] end of it (soe as to make [the] curvature a, bcdef in my eye) there appeared severall white darke & coloured circles r, s, t, &c. Which circles were plainest when I continued to rub my eye [with the] point of [the] bodkine, but if I held my eye & [the] bodkin still, though I continued to presse my eye [with] it yet [the] circles would grow faint & often disappeare untill I removed [them] by moving my eye or [the] bodkin.

If [the] experiment were done in a light roome so [that] though my eyes were shut some light would get through their lidds There appeared a greate broade blewish darke circle outmost (as ts), & [within] that another light spot srs whose colour was much like [that] in [the] rest of [the] eye as at k. Within [which] spot appeared still another blew spot r espetially if I pressed my eye hard & [with] a small pointed bodkin. & outmost at vt appeared a verge of light.

[illustration and text From Isaac Newton’s handwritten notebook essay ‘Of Colours’, c. 1666]

I cannot even apply eyedrops without flinching, and Isaac Newton willingly stuck a bodkin1 into his eye socket and rubbed it around, just to see what would happen.

We all celebrate Newton as a genius, but if you dig a little deeper you’ll find that he was also the height of 17th century whatthefuckery.

  1. The kind of bodkin which was likely, in Newton’s time, a long and blunt needle used as a hairpin. Think of it as the equivalent of jamming a modern butter knife into your eye. Yeah.
posted 8/6/09 at 3:33pm to History, Science!, WTF? · 8 replies · »

8 replies to ““An experiment to put pressure on the eye””

  1. melissa said:

    when i was little, i used to wear goggles around the house so that nothing would poke my eye out. the teachers wouldn’t let me wear them at school, though. well, not until mr. clifton elbowed me & gave me a black eye by accident. at least she said.

    Aug 6, 2009 at 4:41pm
  2. Hissy said:

    That “bodkin” looks an awful lot like a Finglonger to me.

    Aug 16, 2009 at 2:18pm
  3. GoTony said:

    The finglonger never existed. It was just a what if. A man can dream, though.. A man can dream..

    Aug 21, 2009 at 2:21am
  4. Dr. Z said:

    Hurrayy! I’m helping!

    Aug 21, 2009 at 5:03am
  5. Eye cautious said:

    That is awesome Melissa, I had the same aversion to losing an eye, but never took it that far.

    Aug 21, 2009 at 7:46am
  6. Michael Brutsch: Daily Links said:

    […] Newton was a badass […]

    Aug 21, 2009 at 10:40am
  7. Ralph Dosser said:

    … Described in loving detail in the first book of Neal Stephenson’s “Baroque Cycle,” whose protagonist was Newton’s school roommate (among a great many other things).

    Aug 21, 2009 at 11:55am
  8. Michael Brutsch: August 2009 said:

    […] Newton was a badass […]

    Sep 1, 2009 at 6:03pm

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