Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Advances in Medical Science — The Aura

Kilner said he saw this when looking
at a healthy man
The Washington Times reported on August 5, 1911 on the work of a New York physician who was attempting to add a contribution to the then-current theory of auras. This was the subject of a 1911 book by the British physician, Walter J. Kilner. Although auras have now been exiled to the metaphysical precincts, they were seen as a potential new diagnostic tool.

I don't really want to mock Dr. Francis Rebman, the subject of the article in the Times. He was working in the context of the best science of the day, although he might have approached his researches with just a tad more skepticism.

That, as we all know, didn’t happen. The article begins by suggesting that in the future doctors will ask after their patients’ auras. If my doctor asked me about my aura, I’d be finding another doctor.
Hopes to Demonstrate The New Aura Theory
NEW YORK, Aug. 5—“Good Morning, how is your aura today?” will be the greeting of physicians to their patients hereafter, if the experiments of Dr. Francis J. Rebman bear fruit. Rebman is following the lead of Dr. Walter J. Kilner, who has established the existence of an atmospheric envelope around the human body, which betrays symptoms of all ills known to him.

Dr. Rebman hopes to make the aura visible, and to classify the appearance of the new found halo under the conditions induced by different diseases. The theory is that in health, the lines of light forming the aura are regular, and at a uniform distance from the body. In illness, the lines are wavering and broken.

In order to observe the aura of patients, Dr. Rebman places them in a darkened room and looks at them through a glass screen. Dr. Rebman is confident that some day the phrase “Let me look at your aura,” will displace the familiar “How is your pulse?” and “Let me see your tongue.” In some respects, his experiments follow the lines of those recently conducted in Chicago and St. Louis.
In the May 1921 edition of Science and Invention, Hugo Gernsback[1] wrote an article on Kilner’s work of a decade prior, explaining Kilner’s technique of looking at people through a screen
composed of two pieces of flat glass separated by means of rubber or glass or any other suitable substance. The space between the two plates is filled with an alcoholic solution of dicyanin. It should be noted that this solution does not retain its full strength after it has been used for a long time, and therefore should be renewed frequently.
Kilner was able to see auras after looking through these lenses, but this seemed a mixed blessing.
persons who looked thru the dye found that their eyesight was improved temporarily. He also found hat dicyanin had a harmful effect upon the eyes making them so painful it was necessary after experimenting with the screen to cease work for days at a time.
I'm not certain about calling something an "improvement" if it causes you to cease work for "days at a time." Don't want to get too improved, after all. A glance at Wikipedia notes that visual auras can be a symptom of eye fatigue. Given the other experiences that Kilner had with his goggles, this seems a likely explanation for why he was seeing auras. On the Wikipedia page for Walter John Kilner, some Wikipedian has written that
The only drawbacks to Kilner’s method are the scarcity and toxicity of the chemicals he recommended.
To which I would add the harm to the practitioner’s eyes and that it’s total bullshit pseudoscience, both of which strike me as significant drawbacks.

I have found no evidence that Dr. Remban wrote up his results. The only paper by Reban on JSTOR is “What Shall I Eat? A Manual of Rational Feeding,” which appeared in the *British Medical Journal," July 1, 1911.

  1. Hugo Gernsback is known to science fiction fans as the creator of the science fiction magazine. His Amazing Stories described the contents as “scientifiction,” Gernsback’s portmanteau word for “scientific fiction,” which later became “science fiction.” The fan-voted awards at the World Science Fiction Convention are named in his honor.  ↩

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