Health and Light by John N. Ott


The increasing demand for time-lapse pictures necessitated building a mezzanine floor in the plastic greenhouse and installing additional cameras. More and more bits of interesting information were turning up at a much faster rate. All in all everything was beginning to run more smoothly except for two major problems. First, no one would pay any serious attention to the medical research possibilities of my time-lapse films. Second, advancing arthritis in my hip was making it increasingly difficult to carry a projector around for lectures or even to go up and down the basement stairs. Several doctors had recommended wearing a large metal brace and advised that a plastic hip joint would be necessary before very long. As a result, my wife and I were seriously considering moving to a house on one floor in order to avoid the stairs.

But the time-lapse studio created a real problem, for this would be extremely difficult and costly to move. Meanwhile two lecture trips took me to Florida during two successive winters. While there I spent as much time as possible on the beach to find out if basking in the sun would possibly help my arthritis. There were many stories about arthritis being affected by weather, but much as I would have liked a good excuse to spend more time in Florida during the winter, I could not honestly notice the slightest benefit. Sometimes it actually felt worse. On one trip I drove the family down and back. I enjoyed driving in the country, but my arthritis was always noticeably more aggravated at the end of the day regardless of how comfortable and relaxing the driver's seat might be. Nerves and fatigue, said the doctors. I should relax more. But how could I relax more than by sitting in the sun on the beach? Furthermore, while driving the car or sitting on the beach, I was always extra careful to wear my dark glasses to avoid any eyestrain, since my eyes were very sensitive to the bright sunlight.

The only other times my arthritis definitely seemed to bother me more were immediately after my regular weekly TV program and following its filming the next day in the converted garage studio. Here maybe I could agree with the doctors about nerves and fatigue, but some extra aspirin would usually help considerably. Other than this, it was not possible to correlate my arthritic discomfort with anything else, including diet. Many well wishing friends brought various remedies, tonics, and vitamin pills that had cured some distant relative. My arthritis must have been of a different variety, as none helped at all. Hot baths were relaxing but of no real value. Injections of various new glandular extracts would increase the discomfort for the first day or two and then give only four or five days' relief. Then the arthritis would be right back again. A cane helped a great deal by relieving some of the weight from my hip, but after using it for over two years, my elbow began to give trouble. I rode a bicycle around the yard back and forth between the house, tool shed and greenhouse. It was a girl's bicycle because it was easier to get on.

The problem of what to do continued to become more acute; then, one day I broke my glasses. While waiting for a new pair to be made I wore my spares. The nosepiece was a little tight and bothered me, so I took them off most of the time. The weather had been nice for several days and there was some light work outside that I did as best I could with my cane in one hand. Suddenly I didn't seem to need the cane. My elbow was fine and my hip was not bothering me much even though I hadn't taken any extra amount of aspirin. It was hard to figure out why my arthritis should suddenly be so much better. My hip hadn't felt this well for three or four years. I began walking back and forth on the driveway. Fifteen minutes went by, and I must have walked a mile. I ran into the house and up the stairs two at a time to tell my wife. She had been watching me out the window and worrying. Had I lost my cane again? And why all the walking back and forth and around in circles without my glasses? It was shortly before Christmas, and I told her if she would hurry and finish her Christmas shopping, we could go to Florida for a week between TV programs. I wanted to sit in the sun again without any glasses. In three days we were on a plane headed south.

During that week the weather was very cold; in fact, an overcoat was necessary most of the time. Nevertheless, it was possible to be outdoors in the natural sunlight all day without any glasses. Perhaps this was a good thing because the light intensity away from the beach was not as great and made it much easier to do without dark glasses. At all times I was careful not to strain my eyes from too much light and never looked directly at the sun unless it was quite hazy or a little cloudy. I was also careful to guard against sunburn. Much of the time was spent sitting under a palm tree where I could read or look out into the open and still receive the benefits of natural sunlight in contrast to artificial light or sunlight filtered through glass. Fortunately, I was able to read without my glasses, needing them primarily for distant vision. My particular reason for not wearing dark glasses was that in addition to the glass itself filtering out virtually all the ultraviolet and certain other shorter wavelengths of sunlight energy, the characteristics of the light are further changed depending on the color of the glass. This acts as a filter restricting the transmission of all the other colors or wavelengths and transmits a peak of energy of the particular wavelength of whatever color the glass happens to be. While in the hotel, it was a great temptation to look out through a big picture window at the tropical vegetation and beautiful blue ocean. Conscientiously though, I avoided looking through the window glass and drove as little as possible to eliminate looking through an automobile windshield. I avoided bright artificial lights and did not watch television or go to the movies.

The effect on my arthritis was as beneficial as an injection of one of the glandular extracts right into the hip joint, but without the intervening day or two of increased discomfort. There was no doubt about it. My arthritis was definitely much better, and I was satisfied it was not imagination or wishful thinking. Furthermore, after several days of not wearing glasses at all, my eyes were no longer so extra sensitive to the bright sunlight even on the beach. Before the week was up, I played several rounds of golf on a short nine-hole course and went walking on the beach without my cane. I felt like a new person.

Theories may be interesting to think about and discuss with other people, but this was affecting my own arthritis, a much more personal and realistic matter. Maybe I was one of the lucky people you hear about who gets better for no reason at all, but I felt strongly that there was a reason. I had taken my glasses off and let the full-unfiltered natural sunlight energy into my eyes and had also made a point of being outdoors six hours or more each day whether it was sunny or cloudy. To me the results were convincing enough: that light received through the eyes must stimulate the pituitary or some other gland such as the pineal gland about which not too much is known.

The pineal gland is present in all craniate vertebrate animals. It is thought to be a remnant of an important sense organ utilized to a greater extent by more primitive animals. It is in most cases located at the base of the brain, but with some fish and reptiles and especially certain lizards it is raised near the upper surface of the head and has the structure of an eye with a more or less distinct retina and lens. It is then called the pineal eye. At any rate, something was stimulating the glands that lubricated my joints without artificially injecting any of the prepared glandular extracts.

Back home, I continued to stay outdoors every day without my glasses as much as possible from before sunrise until after sunset in spite o f cold or cloudy weather. I used a small blue Christmas tree light as a night-light in the bathroom just in case momentarily interrupting the dark night period of human sleep with bright artificial light might possibly have some detrimental or adverse effect as it definitely did with so many different plants. I moved my office from a room in the basement that had nothing but artificial light to a comer of my plastic greenhouse. When it was warm enough to be outside, I did as much office work as possible right out in the open. I also went swimming a great deal or otherwise wore a bathing suit as much as possible. For over a year I had spent almost two full days each week under the bright studio lights in order to repeat my weekly television program so that it could be recorded on color film. The total number of hours under the intense studio lights was therefore cut from approximately sixteen a week to forty minutes at the most. This in itself made a tremendous difference, but even so, my arthritis still noticeably bothered me after each television program or driving a car for any considerable distance and looking through the glass windshield.

Theoretically, if this theory of light energy affecting the basic body chemistry is right, then it might go even much further as far as being responsible for various ailments and diseases, particularly of the old age or degenerative type, but all this needs further extensive study before any positive statements can be made. A friend whom I told of my experience undertook the same regimen and his hay fever vanished. Could not wearing glasses and being out in the sunlight possibly bring about a change in the body chemistry so the grains of pollen remained dormant?

One day I met a man who had previously taken a number of still photographs for me. He had meanwhile been on an assignment that required an intense amount of artificial lighting in large interior areas. He was an extreme diabetic and while on this job had a severe attack, which resulted in the bursting of some blood vessels in the retina of both eyes. He became almost totally blind and could just distinguish the difference between day and night. He had been in this condition for approximately four years during which time he had numerous additional blood vessels burst in his eyes. He continued to work for the same company but in the photographic dark room where he was put in charge of processing film. Between batches of film he would occupy his time by reading Braille in the dark.

The day I saw him again and learned of his blindness, I told of my experience with arthritis. Arrangements were made with his boss for a table outside where he could read his Braille while waiting for films to be processed. He made an effort to be outdoors as much as possible while at home. Approximately six months later, he had not had a single blood vessel burst, could distinguish different colors, and see enough to follow the vague outline of the sidewalk ahead as he walked to work. Another single isolated case, but a very interesting one to follow. Incidentally, he always wore thick, strong glasses before going blind.

Some doctors have said cancer is caused by a virus or at least is in some way associated with it: If this is so, then the possibility of influencing body chemistry by the characteristics of the light energy received through the eye might conceivably be an important factor in the metabolism of the individual cells of the tissues of the body. The same principles of nutritional factors, light energy, and a balanced metabolism would follow the same line of reasoning as with both the wheat and tomato viruses.

Just exactly how this energy could be transmitted was hard to visualize. Nevertheless, I had photographed plants that could transmit energy or impulses quite rapidly, and certainly these plants have no nervous system similar to that of animals or humans. Both the Venus Fly Trap and sundew plants are good examples, but even better possibly would be the Mimosa pudica, or sensitive-plant. An interesting characteristic of this plant is that it folds its leaves tightly together when it gets dark and seems actually to go to sleep at night It opens its leaves again during the daytime. If you touch the leaves with your finger or strike them with any object, they quickly fold up in about one second. If the plant is left undisturbed, the leaves will slowly open again in approximately five or ten minutes. If the tip end of a leaf is singed with the flame of a match, the shock is greater, and the reaction can be seen as it travels throughout the entire plant. The singed leaf first folds up quickly, then the branch collapses. The shock wave travels in one or two seconds through the main stem to the other branches, which collapse. Then the shock continues to travel through these other branches to the leaves that finally fold up. Again, if the plant is not disturbed, the leaves will slowly open in approximately ten minutes time.

A further interesting phenomenon is that the entire plant can be anesthetized with ordinary ether so that it will not react even to the more severe shock of singeing a leaf with the flame of a match. This may be done by placing some cotton saturated with ether near the plant and covering it over, with an airtight cover. When the cover is removed and the plant has been in fresh air again for ten or fifteen minutes, it will react in its normal way. Another interesting observation regarding the sensitive-plant is that even though it is kept in total darkness in the basement under a concrete ceiling, as well as the usual concrete walls, the leaves continue to open and close according to the outdoor daylight or night periods. Whether or not this reaction is controlled by cosmic rays or other radiant energy forces capable of penetrating concrete is something of a mystery.

The fact remains that these plants are capable of transmitting this energy or shock impulse in a way that is not fully understood. Therefore, it seems reasonable that light energy or the effects of it could be similarly transmitted through animal tissue and become an important factor in the metabolic function of the individual cells.

I showed my pictures and stressed the effects of light and its important possibilities to a number of medical groups, universities and the research personnel of seven large pharmaceutical companies across the country. Same reaction every time. Excellent pictures, very interesting, and somebody would be getting in touch with me. But nothing ever happened. One company wanted to test out the theory of spores in connection with the common cold but was unable to find anyone with a cold at the right time after searching for six months in the New York City area. Another company was interested in helping with some of my projects until I suggested they also help by sharing some of the expenses. This abruptly changed its attitude. I showed my pictures and told my story at the headquarters of the United States Department of Agriculture, Public Health Institute, and Surgeon General's Office of the Army all at my own expense but could stir up no action. Finally the United States Information Agency became interested and translated the most recent and complete magazine article about my work into Russian and sent it to Moscow. I tried to interest several of the large foundations, but with no results. Two universities made an appeal for a research grant based on time-lapse photography that I would do jointly with them, but were turned down cold.

The research departments of several large corporations showed some interest in the possibilities of time-lapse photography. However, their interest was only in its application to particular problems on which they were already working. The heads of the research departments of two other large companies confidentially expressed some interest but frankly said any official recognition or participation in such an outlandish idea would subject them to the risk of possible ridicule by other scientists. Invariably, they would all check the available literature on the subject and report there was nothing to support my observations. The information in the literature dealt primarily with color therapy and the psychological effect of different colors on more or less emotionally unstable people. It was no help at all and only tended to classify me further in the category of crackpot.

Progress was slow and discouraging. At times the whole idea seemed utterly ridiculous even to me, and often quite hopeless. Many times I pinned my hopes on a particular showing of my films for some official recognition and acceptance of the importance of light energy and other interesting phenomena revealed through my time-lapse pictures. There was always the same polite but negative response. Several senior educators and top doctors suggested quite frankly that I should forget about any medical application or reference in connection with light, particularly concerning cancer, before I brought too much ridicule and disgrace not only upon myself but my family as well.

Then, things began to happen that were tremendously helpful. The Chicago Technical Societies Council honored me with one of their annual Merit Awards, "for out-standing technical achievements, service to science, fellow scientists and the community." Soon afterwards Loyola University in Chicago conferred upon me an honorary degree of Doctor of Science. Next I was asked to become a member of the faculty in the Biology Department, and very soon after this I was also made a member of the faculty of. Michigan State University in the Department of Horticulture. Meanwhile members of the faculty of other universities including Harvard, Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin cooperated whole-heartedly with me in an advisory capacity with the production of various technical films for a number of nationally known large corporations. The Chicago Horticultural Society awarded me the Charles L. Hutchinson Medal for my "time-lapse work in horticulture and contributions to the scientific knowledge of plant growth." All these associations helped tremendously in lending scientific dignity to the theories I was postulating.

The idea of using time-lapse photography for more than simply entertainment and advertising films was taking hold. Additional experiments were started by others at both Loyola and Michigan State Universities. One of the most encouraging and gratifying experiences came when the Lamp Development Department of the General Electric Company retained me as a consultant to study and advise on the effects of radiant energy on plants and animals. The Quaker Oats Company placed their research farm near Barrington, Illinois, at our disposal. Experiments were started in subjecting chickens and various domestic animals to different types of lighting conditions. The Quaker Oats Farm was otherwise used primarily for testing various animal feed formulas. This was a tremendous help, since it was already established as a well-organized and smoothly operating experimental farm.

More recently I have built two time-lapse camera units for use in the Cancer Research Program at Chas Pfizer and Co., Inc. They have retained me to consult with them on time-lapse problems and the manner in which they relate to my own work. Other important companies have also indicated an interest in this subject of the importance of the full spectrum of sunlight energy, and a number of exciting experiments are either already started or in the definite planning stage. These experiments may take several years to complete and will undoubtedly lead to other experiments requiring additional years. This raises the question of whether or not the best policy would be to keep all information strictly confidential and release nothing until scientifically proven beyond any doubt. On the other hand, it is my firm belief that by making as much information as possible available with caution that others may possess information that might supply the missing pieces to the overall puzzle.

Meanwhile more bits of interesting information keep turning up from the most unexpected sources. On one of my regular television programs, I was privileged to have Warden Joseph E. Ragen of the Illinois State Penitentiary as my guest. His work in the rehabilitation of men at Stateville Penitentiary and the importance of horticultural therapy had been written up in one of the Chicago newspapers. This sounded most interesting, so I contacted Warden Ragen and was invited to see the prison gardens and work being done along these lines inside the prison walls. The extent of the gardens and their beauty was simply amazing. The fact that the men did all the work and raised the plants themselves was certainly commendable, but their obvious enthusiasm and feeling of personal pride in their work impressed me most. Warden Ragen showed me many letters received from men after their release as well as letters received from men still at Stateville that might be summed up by the remarks of one man who came there as one of the toughest criminals and psychological problems ever to be dealt with. Warden Ragen told me he had stopped one day and asked this man how he was getting along. The man straightened up, pointed to the flower bed he had just finished cultivating and said:

"Warden, this is the first decent thing I've accomplished. I've been a thief and criminal all my life. All my gains were ill gotten, and I find now I can do something that will be worthwhile, not only for myself, but for people as a whole. I know flowers are not only pretty, but they're profitable as well. I'm sure that when my sentence is served, you'll never hear from me again so far as crime is concerned. I'm going to ask you to help me find employment in a greenhouse or as a gardener."

From later correspondence I had with Warden Ragen, I again quote from one of his letters as follows:

I should like to say one thing, and one, which can possibly be considered repetitious on my part. I am positive that 'schools for delinquents, reformatories and prisons are not the proper place to make good citizens. I do not think that children are instinctively born criminals. I believe they are led into lives of crime in many instances, by delinquent parents, improper home situations, lack of love and care to which they are entitled as children and lack of religious, academic and vocational training. Certainly, if our prison populations are to be reduced, we must do more about the "cause" which produces the delinquent child of today. He must be guided through his formative years on the road to good citizenship rather than be permitted to drift to a life of crime and disgrace, and further, become a very expensive liability to taxpayers and society in general.

Certainly working with flowers and plants in the garden close to nature is a very good psychological influence. Possibly being out in the sunlight as contrasted to the solitary confinement in a dark or artificially lighted cell is even more basically a good thing. If it is the natural sunlight received through the eyes that is beneficial in helping to rehabilitate such men, then it might also be an important factor in juvenile delinquency. In my mind it raises the question about the ultimate effect on human health and normal growth development resulting from excessive exposure to other than natural sunlight as the result of increased and extensive use of large picture windows, glass buildings, and modern brighter artificial lighting. The fad of wearing dark glasses is sweeping the country. The matter of driving or being driven in an automobile to school or work is becoming more important all the time. Many outdoor sports are now attended at night under lights or watched over TV. The importance of education is being stressed more and more, and students are working harder and longer under midnight electricity to meet stiffer requirements and increased competition. New mental institutions, hospitals and especially maternity wards, where newly born infants get their first glimpse of light, have larger windows that are no longer made to open - and more and brighter artificial lights.

For several years I had been increasingly bothered with common head colds and a sore throat. Several people who regularly watched my TV program either sent me or recommended various cough remedies that seemed to have little effect. This troublesome condition also disappeared as I continued to practice my theories of being outdoors in the natural sunlight. For some time I more or less joked with various friends including some in the medical profession about feeling so much better, and all agreed wholeheartedly that it was a wonderful thing regardless of whether it was due purely to my imagination or not.

It might be well-noted here that after six months of not wearing glasses, except for what little driving of the car was absolutely essential, and for focusing my projector when showing pictures, I began to notice that wearing my glasses even for these short periods seemed to strain my eyes more and more. Accordingly, an appointment with my oculist for a regular check-up seemed advisable. This time it was necessary to go back for a second examination which my doctor explained was customary in order to double check any such drastic change as was the case with the condition of my eyes. The principal difference in my new prescription was that the rather strong prisms previously needed to correct a muscular weakness were no longer needed. With this encouragement, I decided also to have my hip X-rayed again.

It was most gratifying to have my doctor advise that the X-ray pictures showed a definite strengthening and improvement in the area of my hip joint that had been causing so much trouble. A physical examination revealed the complete disappearance of a 30 per cent restriction of the movement or rotation of the hip joint, which my doctor commented on as being wonderful but quite surprising and most unusual. For six months I had been imagining I felt better, and it was a great relief to have these X-ray pictures and examination confirm my imagination.