Inside the Eye
February 11, 2016 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Inside the Eye: Nature’s Most Exquisite Creation "If you ask people what animal eyes are used for, they’ll say: same thing as human eyes. But that’s not true. It’s not true at all"

"At one level, such diversity is puzzling. All eyes detect light, and light behaves in a predictable manner. But it has a multitude of uses. Light reveals the time of day, the depth of water, the presence of shade. It bounces off enemies, mates, and shelter. The box jellyfish uses it to find safe pastures. You use it to survey landscapes, interpret facial expressions, and read these words. The variety of tasks that eyes perform is limited only by the fecundity of nature. They represent a collision between the constancy of physics and the messiness of biology. To understand how eyes evolved, scientists need to do more than examine their structures. "
posted by dhruva (14 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Inside the Eye: Nature’s Most Exquisite Creation

Oh, man, why did they use that word in the title...

Amazing article, though, and breathtaking pictures. The bay scallop, wow!
posted by Huck500 at 7:07 PM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ok, nevermind. It's either a slight troll or bait to lure in creationists, or both. Nice post, thanks!
posted by Huck500 at 7:15 PM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Indeed, an uncommonly strong match of writing and photography.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:19 PM on February 11, 2016

This is timely, then: Bacterial cells are actually the world's smallest 'eyeballs', scientists discover by accident
"We noticed it accidentally, because we had cells on a surface and we were shining light from one side, in order to watch the movement towards the light," microbiologist Conrad Mullineaux from Queen Mary University of London told Jonathan Webb at BBC News. "We suddenly saw these focused bright spots [inside the cells] and we thought, 'bloody hell!' Immediately, it was pretty obvious what was going on."
posted by Rangi at 7:26 PM on February 11, 2016 [16 favorites]

Radiolab lied to me about the mantis shrimp!
posted by matildaben at 8:58 PM on February 11, 2016

Fantastic article, thanks dhruva. This must be one of my favourite topics, so to see it treated so well is nice.

If you're interested in learning a bit more about the human eye in particular, I like this extract by J. Kevin O'Regan, which is written in a similarly holistic, readable manner as the NatGeo piece.

And because I can't resist: perhaps you read "...our brains can fill in the missing details in our blind spots", and wondered, "how, exactly?", but Wikipedia didn't help and now you're really curious. If you want to peer into that rabbit-hole, an article also by O'Regan (hey, I'm a fan), Solving the "Real" Mysteries of Visual Perception: The World as an Outside Memory, is a thought-provoking entry point.
posted by nagemi at 9:12 PM on February 11, 2016 [6 favorites]

The West Indian fuzzy chiton (Acanthopleura granulata), a marine mollusk, has hundreds of tiny eyes in its shell plates, each with its own lens, retina, and pigment layer. The lenses are composed not of proteins but of aragonite, a mineral the chiton forges from calcium and carbonate molecules in seawater.

posted by From Bklyn at 11:57 PM on February 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you gaze even deeper into the eyes of a Robin, it will even reveal some of the secrets of quantum physics.
posted by fairmettle at 4:01 AM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Among the many reasons eyes are glorious, they are just so good at giving the - if you will - side-eye to creationists' Aha! they are wont to say. How superb a mechanism. Nothing that amazing could happen randomly!

And then you get to point out that Darwin made exactly the same objection in Origin, and proceeded to explain exactly how natural selection - which is not random - of random modifications could go from the simplest possible light detection through to the full mammalian eye. And how this prediction has been born out by more than a hundred years of discovery, in many fields. And how so many different kinds of eyes have evolved, and how they help survival in different niches. And how there are features in the human eye that you wouldn't design in if you were being smart about it, but as evolution doesn't have any concept of the future (perhaps not strictly true, but anyone who's capable of discussing this won't be a creationist) then early and perhaps infelicitous features will carry on despite being non-optimal.

And how Every. Damn. Thing. about the eye screams evolution.

(And they go yeah but no it's just a theory you can't know what happened you weren't there, and you sigh and buy them a beer and go onto how creationism is by and large not Christian/Islamic/Jewish theology anyway and not supported by what we know about scripture, and they say yeah but no but its in the Book as clear as day and you finish your beer and say you know the Book says you shouldn't vote (might as well) and then say bye now and make sure to send their kids some books about fossils for Christmas.)
posted by Devonian at 4:29 AM on February 12, 2016 [11 favorites]

*buys Devonian a beer in commiseration*
posted by blurker at 6:27 AM on February 12, 2016

Man, this makes me miss some of the neat stuff I was working on back when I was doing science for a living. The lab used developing chick embryos to study retinal development. They're handy because you can cut into the egg shell and manipulate the eye, then close the shell back up and let them keep developing. I designed some genetically engineered viruses to examine the involvement of cell surface carbohydrates. We got some neat images like this (not from my lab, but just a nice image of the retina). This was in 2000/2001 and I could not afford to remain a postdoc (maybe I should have stuck it out a few years), so I left for vocational school.
posted by exogenous at 6:41 AM on February 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Radiolab lied to me about the mantis shrimp!

Sadly, Radiolab will go after the sentimental pop-sci woo-woo over actual mundane science any day of the week.
posted by aught at 12:17 PM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Great article indeed. The theory about how the development of eyes drove the Cambrian explosion is cool.
posted by Alex404 at 12:17 PM on February 12, 2016

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