Destined for Distinguished Oblivion: The Scientific Vision of William Charles Wells (1757-1817)
William Charles Wells (1757-1817) was one of the foremost, and forgotten, American scientists of the eighteenth century. He was trained in medicine and conducted experimental studies in vision and vertigo, he proposed a theory of how dew forms, and he speculated on the mechanism of natural selection. Despite the originality of his enquiries in all these areas, Wells' contributions to scientific discovery have been either neglected or ignored. Although he was born in America, Wells was educated in Scotland and practiced medicine for most of his adult life in London. His practice did not thrive, and he had ample time to conduct his experimental enquiries on a variety of natural phenomena. He was acquainted with the leading medical men of the day, and was admired by them. The emergence of experimental studies of vision can be traced to the adoption of Newtonian methods of observation and experiment, and in their application to space perception by Wells (1792). His initial researches were concerned principally with binocular vision, but he also conducted experimental studies of accommodation, acuity, eye movements, and vertigo. With regard to the last, he entered into a debate with Erasmus Darwin concerning the involvement of eye movements in vertigo. Indeed, Wells should be acknowledged as laying the foundations for modern studies of vestibular function as well as eye movements. The book reprints his Essay on single vision with two eyes (1792) and his own Memoir of his life (1818). Wells also outlined a theory of natural selection before Charles Darwin and provided an account of the formation of dew. His essay on natural selection is reprinted as an Appendix to the book. Wells' experiments and observations on natural phenomena will surprise students of science because of their modernity.
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accommodation afterimages Aguilonius Alhazen apparent motion appear double appear single Baillie binocular single vision binocular vision binocular visual direction body rotation brain centre Chapter colour common axis consequence considered cornea corresponding points crystalline crystalline lens Darwin Descartes described distance distinct vision Erasmus Darwin Essay upon single evidence examined experimental eye movements Figure fixation Flourens giddiness head Helmholtz horopter illustration inclined left eye lens light Mach manner mentioned move muscles muscular Newton nineteenth century nystagmus objects appear observed optic axes optic nerves perceived perception perpendicular person phenomena philosophical physician plane Porterfield position postrotational pupil Purkinje rays reference refractive Reid respect retina retinal disparity right eye saccades seen semicircular canals sensations sense sight similar situation spectra speculations stereoscope stimulation studies thaumatrope theory vertigo vestibular vestibular system visible visual base visual direction visual motion visual persistence visual vertigo Wade Wheatstone Wheatstone's Young Zoonomia