The X-rays in the eyes that ‘blinded’ Ramón y Cajal and Valle-Inclán

The latest biography of Santiago Ramón y Cajal is written by the historian Francisco Cánovas Sánchez and has been published in Alianza. It is a social biography, so to speak, since it presents us with the time in which the scientist lived (1852-1934); a border age that conditioned their scientific research, assuming that unfavorable circumstances can be changed to more favorable ones with enough determination and curiosity to do so. A man of his time and a social political animal in the Aristotelian way, Ramón y Cajal was an activist in public life, knowing that the wealth of a country resides in its scientific education.

However, every time our Nobel Prize in Medicine (1906) is biographed, the episode in which he was involved when he presided over a commission to study a case as extravagant and popular as was the case of the young Argamasilla is overlooked. an aristocrat who claimed to have special eyes, capable of seeing through opaque bodies.

Being gifted with X-ray vision was something unheard of and challenging at the same time, as the news brought with it a controversy that went viral on the streets of Madrid at the time. We are talking about a century ago now, when paranormal phenomena fed the day-to-day life of a town that was still a town in La Mancha. Who has not fantasized about being able to see through walls, doors or clothes. In cases like this, pseudoscience finds a fertile ground for germination.

In the commission chaired by Ramón y Cajal there were not only oculists, but also neurologists and experts in psychiatry. One of them was Rodríguez Lafora, a neurologist and psychiatrist, who did not believe the phenomenon, but who, driven by scientific prudence, requested more evidence to render his verdict. Another of the doctors who made up this entourage, the Frenchman Robert Richet, was sure that the young Argamasilla was not lying.

These trials were joined by Valle-Inclán, who declared that it was not a paranormal matter, but a scientific matter, although it could not be demonstrated, since there are scientific matters that science cannot prove are. With an argument more typical of a sophist than a man of science, Valle-Inclán defended the supernatural possibility of the young Argamasilla. It should be noted that the Galician author was a friend of the young Argamasilla’s father, the Marqués de Santacara. From here, everything is understood.

For those who want to get closer to this puzzling chapter of our pseudoscientific history, it is recommended to read the book published by La Felguera with the title Valle-Inclán and the unusual case of the man with X-rays in his eyes, a compilation of the case where Grace Morales and Ramón Mayrata tell us about the facts that turned this extravagance into news. In addition to what Morales and Mayrata told, we must add the documentation of the case with the different versions of it, both for and against.

This very particular case, in which our Nobel laureate was involved, serves as an example to explain that the roots of paranormal beliefs in our society comes from far away. And that pseudoscience and geeks always emerge when it comes to testing the scientific method.

We can fit the case of the young Argamasilla in our present. Because the times we are living in send us back to times gone by, when supernatural explanations penetrated deep into a population without a culture of scientific roots, something that Ramón y Cajal always identified with the poverty of a country.

The stone ax is a section where Montero Glez, with the will of prose, exercises his particular siege to scientific reality to show that science and art are complementary forms of knowledge

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The X-rays in the eyes that ‘blinded’ Ramón y Cajal and Valle-Inclán