The vision of William Porterfield

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In eighteenth-century Britain, research on vision was conducted in the context of either optics or medicine, and both were influenced by philosophy. These threads were woven together by William Porterfield (ca. 1696–1771) in his essays on eye movements and in his treatise on the eye and vision. The scene for investigating vision was set by Isaac Newton (1642–1727) in the first decade of the century with his Opticks (Newton, 1704). The Newtonian mould was loosened by Thomas Young (1773–1829) in the last decade with his initial observations on vision (Young, 1793). Newton and Young adopted contrasting theories of light; Newton’s (1704) theory was based on its corpuscular properties whereas Young (1800, 1802) provided further evidence (mainly from studies of interference) for its action as a wave. Despite the controversies in physical optics, their studies of visual optics had much in common (Wade, 1998). They examined the image forming properties of the eye similarly and their analyses of errors of refraction were in accord.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBrain, Mind, and Medicine
Subtitle of host publicationEssays in 18th Century Neuroscience
EditorsHarry Whitaker, C.U.M. Smith, Stanley Finger
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9780387709673
ISBN (Print)9780387709666
Publication statusPublished - 25 Sept 2007


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