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science writer, critic and novelist

The greatest innovation in vision science? Spectacles with arms. With printing came a huge increase in the demand for spectacles. These had been available since at least 1286, when they were produced by Venetian goldsmiths familiar with the optical properties of rock crystal. But the things absolutely refused to stay on your nose. 440 years later, the London optician Edward Scarlett (1677-1743) solved the problem. The invention of spectacles with arms increased one’s comfortable reading-time from a few minutes to virtually every waking moment, and drove the Enlightenment as surely as the invention of printing drove the Renaissance.