Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), famous as a philosopher and pillar of the rational Enlightenment, for many years actually earned his living as a maker of telescopic lenses. He was knowledgeable about all the contemporary ideas about the physics of light and optics, especially the mathematics of refraction. Although he did not make significant contributions to optical theory, he was an enthusiastic observer of the new world revealed by telescopes and microscopes. Such luminaries as Huygens and Leibnitz recognized Spinoza’s sterling reputation as a maker of lenses and optical instruments. Unfortunately, Spinoza had respiratory symptoms since childhood and his unavoidable exposure to glass dust probably contributed to his premature death at 44.
REFERENCE: Nadler, S: Baruch Spinoza. Heretic, Lens Grinder. Arch Ophthalmol. 2000. Vol. 118:1426.
Submitted by Ronald Fishman MD from the Cogan Ophthalmic History Society.