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Chapter 2 - The Eye:
Anatomy of the Human Eye
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Chapter 2 - The Eye:
How the Eye Influences Optical Illusions

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The eye as an optical mechanism is reducible to a single lens and therefore the image focused upon the retina is inverted. However, there is no way for the observer to be conscious of this and therefore the inverted image causes no difficulty in seeing. The images of objects in the right half of the field of view are focused upon the left half of the retina. Similarly, the left half of the field of view corresponds to the right half of the retina; the upper half of the former to the lower half of the latter; and so on. When a ray of light from an object strikes the retina the impression is referred back along the ray-line into the original place in space. This is interestingly demonstrated in a simple manner. Punch a pin-hole in a card and hold it about four inches from the eye and at the same time hold a pin-head as close to the cornea as possible. The background for the pin-hole should be the sky or other bright surface. After a brief trial an inverted image of the pin-head is seen in the hole. Punch several holes in the card and in each will be seen an inverted image of the pin-head.

The explanation of the foregoing is not difficult. The pin-head is so close to the eye that the image cannot be focused upon the retina; however, it is in a very favorable position to cast a shadow upon the retina, the light-source being the pin-hole with a bright background. Light streaming through the pin-hole into the eye casts an erect shadow of the pin-head upon the retina, and this erect image is projected into space and inverted in the process by the effect of the lens. The latter is not operative during the casting of the shadow because the pin-head is too close to the lens, as already stated. It is further proved to be outward projection of the retinal image (the shadow) because by multiplying the number of pin-holes (the light-sources) there are also a corresponding number of shadows.

The foregoing not only illustrates the inversion of the image but again emphasizes the fact that we do not see retinal images. Even the "stars" which we see on pressing the eye-lid or on receiving a blow on the eye are projected into space. The "motes" which we see in the visual field while gazing at the sky are defects in the eye-media, and these images are projected into space. We do not see anything in the eye. The retinal image impresses the retina in some definite manner and the impression is carried to the brain by the optic nerve. The intellect then refers or projects this impression outward into space as an external image. The latter would be a facsimile of the physical object if there were no optical illusions but the fact that there are optical illusions indicates that errors are introduced somewhere along the path from and to the object.

It is interesting to speculate whether the first visual impression of a new-born babe is "projected out-ward" or is perceived as in the eye. It is equally futile to conjecture in this manner because there is no indication that the time will come when the baby can answer us immediately upon experiencing its first visual impression. The period of infancy increases with progress up the scale of animal life and this lengthening is doubtless responsible and perhaps necessary for the development of highly specialized sense-organs. Incidentally, suppose a blind person to be absolutely uneducated by transferred experience and that he suddenly became a normal adult and able to see. What would he say about his first visual impression? Apparently such a subject is unobtainable. The nearest that such a case had been approached is the case of a person born blind, whose sight has been restored. This person has acquired much experience with the external world through other senses. It has been recorded that such a person, after sight was restored, appeared to think that external objects "touched" the eyes. Only through visual experience is this error in judgment rectified.

Man studies his kind too much apart from other animals and perhaps either underestimates or overestimates the amount of inherited, innate, instinctive qualities. A new-born chick in a few minutes will walk straight to an object and seize it. Apparently this implies perception of distance and direction and a coordination of muscles for walking and moving the eyes. It appears reasonable to conclude that a certain amount of the wealth of capacities possessed by the individual is partly inherited, and in man the acquired predominates. But all capacities are acquired, for even the inherited was acquired in ancestral experience. Even instinct (whatever that may be) must involve inherited experience. These glimpses of the depths to which one must dig if he is to unearth the complete explanations of visual perception - and consequently of optical illusions - indicate the futility of treating the theories in the available space without encroaching unduly upon the aims of this volume.

Certain defects of the optical system of the eye must contribute toward causing optical illusions. Any perfect lens of homogeneous material has at least two defects, known as spherical and chromatic aberration. The former manifests itself by the bending of straight lines and is usually demonstrated by forming an image of an object such as a wire mesh or checker-board; the outer lines of the image are found to be very much bent. This defect in the eye-lens is somewhat counteracted by a variable optical density, increasing from the outer to the central portion. This results in an increase in refractive-index as the center of the lens is approached and tends to diminish its spherical aberration. The eye commonly possesses abnormalities such as astigmatism and eccentricity of the optical elements. All these contribute toward the creation of optical illusions.

White light consists of rays of light of various colors and these are separated by means of a prism because the refractive-index of the prism differs for lights of different color or wave-length. This causes the blue rays, for example, to be bent more than the red rays when traversing a prism. It is in this manner that the spectrum of light may be obtained. A lens may be considered to be a prism of revolution and it thus becomes evident that the blue rays will be brought to a focus at a lesser distance than the red rays; that is, the former are bent more from their original path than the latter. This defect of lenses is known as chromatic aberration and is quite obvious in the eye. It may be demonstrated by any simple lens, for the image of the sun, for example, will appear to have a colored fringe. A purple filter which transmits only the violet and red rays is useful for this demonstration. By looking at a lamp-filament or candle-flame some distance away the object will appear to have a violet halo, but the color of the fringe will vary with accommodation. On looking through a pin-hole at the edge of an object silhouetted against the bright sky the edge will appear red if the light from the pin-hole enters the pupil near its periphery. This optical defect of the eye makes objects appear more sharply defined when viewed in monochromatic light. In fact, this is quite obvious when using yellow glasses. The defect is also demonstrated by viewing a line-spectrum focused on a ground glass. The blue and red lines cannot be seen distinctly at the same distance. The blue lines can be focused at a much less distance than the red lines. Chromatic aberration can account for such an optical illusion as the familiar "advancing" and "retiring" colors and doubtless it plays a part in many optical illusions.

The structure of the retina plays a very important part in vision and accounts for various optical illusions and many interesting visual phenomena. The optic nerve spreads out to form the retina which constitutes the inner portion of the spherical shell of the eye with the exception of the front part.

Referring again to Fig. 1, the outer coating of the shell is called the sclerotic. This consists of dense fibrous tissue known as the "white of the eye." Inside this coating is a layer of black pigment cells termed the choroid. Next is the bacillary layer which lines about five-sixths of the interior surface of the eye. This is formed by closely packed "rods" and "cones," which play a dominant role in the visual process. A light-sensitive liquid (visual purple) and cellular and fibrous layers complete the retinal structure.

The place where the optic nerve enters the eyeball and begins to spread out is blind. Objects whose images fall on this spot are invisible. This blind-spot is not particularly of interest here, but it may be of interest to note its effect. This is easily done by closing one eye and looking directly at one of two small black circles about two inches apart on white paper at a distance of about a foot from the eye. By moving the objects about until the image of the circle not directly looked at falls upon the blind-spot, this circle will disappear. A three-foot circle at a distance of 36 feet will completely disappear if its image falls directly upon the blind-spot. At a distance of 42 inches the invisible area is about 12 inches from the point of sight and about 3 to 4 inches in diameter. At 300 feet the area is about 8 feet in diameter. The actual size of the retinal blind-spot is about 0.05 inch in diameter or nearly 5 degrees. Binocular vision overcomes any annoyance due to the blind-spots because they do not overlap in the visual field. A one-eyed person is really totally blind for this portion of the retina or of the visual field.

The bacillary layer consists of so-called rods and cones. Only the rods function under very low intensities of illumination of the order of moonlight. The cones are sensitive to color and function only at intensities greater than what may be termed twilight intensities. These elements are very small but the fact that they appear to be connecting links between the retinal image and visual perception, acuity or discrimination of fine detail is limited inasmuch as the elements are of finite dimensions. The smallest image which will produce a visual impression is the size of the end of a cone. The smallest distance between two points which is visible at five inches is about 0.001 inch. Two cones must be stimulated in such a case. Fine lines may appear crooked because of the irregular disposition of these elemental light-sensitive points. This apparent crookedness of lines is an illusion which is directly due to the limitations of retinal elements of finite size.

The distribution of rods and cones over the retina is very important. In the fovea centralis - the point of the retina on the optical axis of the eye - is a slight depression much thinner than the remainder of the retina and this is inhabited chiefly by cones. It is this spot which provides visual acuteness. It is easily demonstrated that fine detail cannot be seen well defined outside this central portion of the visual field. When we desire to see an object distinctly we habitually turn the head so that the image of the object falls upon the fovea of each eye. Helmholtz has compared the foveal and lateral images with a finished drawing and a rough sketch respectively.

The fovea also contains a yellow pigmentation which makes this area of the retina selective as to color-vision. On viewing certain colors a difference in color of this central portion of the field is often very evident. In the outlying regions of the retina, rods predominate and in the intermediate zone both rods and cones are found. Inasmuch as rods are not sensitive to color and cones do not function at low intensities of illumination it is obvious that visual impressions should vary, depending upon the area of the retina stimulated. In fact, many interesting optical illusions are accounted for in this manner, some of which are discussed later.

It is well known that a faint star is seen best by averted vision. It may be quite invisible when the eye is directed toward it, that is, when its image falls upon the rod-free fovea. However, by averting the line of sight slightly, the image is caused to fall on a retinal area containing rods (sensitive to feeble light) and the star may be readily recognized. The fovea is the point of distinct focus. It is necessary for fixed thoughtful attention. It exists in the retina of man and of higher monkeys but it quickly disappears as we pass down the scale of animal life. It may be necessary for the safety of the lower animals that they see equally well over a large field; however, it appears advantageous that man give fixed and undivided attention to the object looked at. Man does not need to trust solely to his senses to protect himself from dangers. He uses his intellect to invent and to construct artificial defenses. Without the highly specialized fovea we might see equally well over the whole retina but could not look attentively at anything, and therefore could not observe thoughtfully.

When an image of a bright object exists upon the retina for a time there results a partial exhaustion or fatigue of the retinal processes with a result that an after-image is seen. This after-image may be bright for a time owing to the fact that it takes time for the retinal process to die out. Then there comes a reaction which is apparent when the eye is directed toward illuminated surfaces. The part of the retina which has been fatigued does not respond as fully as the fresher areas, with the result that the fatigued area contributes a darker area in the visual field. This is known as an after-image and there are many interesting variations.

The after-image usually undergoes a series of changes in color as well as in brightness as the retinal process readjusts itself. An after-image of a colored object may often appear of a color complementary to the color of the object. This is generally accounted for by fatigue of the retinal process. There are many conflicting theories of color-vision but they are not as conflicting in respect to the aspect of fatigue as in some other aspects. If the eye is directed toward a green surface for a time and then turned toward a white surface, the fatigue to green light diminishes the extent of response to the green rays in the light reflected by the white surface. The result is the perception of a certain area of the white surface (corresponding to the portion of the field fatigued by green light) as of a color equal to white minus some green - the result of which is pink or purple. This is easily understood by referring to the principles of color-mixture. When green, red and blue (or violet) are mixed in their proper proportions they will produce any tint or color, even white. Thus these may be considered to be the components of white light. Hence if the retina through fatigue is unable to respond fully to the green component, the result may be expressed mathematically as red plus blue plus reduced green, or synthetically a purplish white or pink. When fatigued to red light the after-image on a white surface is blue-green. When fatigued to blue light it is yellowish.

Further mixtures may be obtained by directing the after-image upon colored surfaces. In this manner many of the interesting visual phenomena and optical illusions associated with the viewing of colors are accounted for. The influence of a colored environment upon a colored object is really very great. This is known as simultaneous contrast. The influence of the immediately previous history of the retina upon the perception of colored surfaces is also very striking. This is called successive contrast. It is interesting to note that an after-image produced by looking at a bright light-source, for example, is projected into space even with the eyes closed. It is instructive to study after-images and this may be done at any moment. On gazing at the sun for an instant and then looking away, an after-image is seen which passes in color from green, blue, purple, etc., and finally fades. For a time it is brighter than the background which may conveniently be the sky. On closing the eyes and placing the hands over them the background now is dark and the appearance of the after-image changes markedly. There are many kinds, effects, and variations of after-images, some of which are discussed in other chapters.

As the intensity of illumination of a landscape, for example, decreases toward twilight, the retina diminishes in sensibility to the rays of longer wave-lengths such as yellow, orange, and red. Therefore, it becomes relatively more sensitive to the rays of shorter wave-length such as green, blue, and violet. The effects of this Purkinje phenomenon (named after the discoverer) may be added to the class of optical illusions treated in this book. It is interesting to note in this connection that moonlight is represented on some paintings and especially on the stage as greenish blue in color, notwithstanding that physical measurements show it to be approximately the color of sunlight. In fact, it is sunlight reflected by dead, frigid, and practically colorless matter.

Some optical illusions may be directly traced to the structure of the eye under unusual lighting conditions. For example, in a dark room hold a lamp obliquely outward but near one eye (the other being closed and shielded) and forward sufficiently for the retina to be strongly illuminated. Move the lamp gently while gazing at a plain dark surface such as the wall. Finally the visual field appears dark, due to the intense illumination of the retina and there will appear, apparently projected upon the wall, an image resembling a branching leafless tree. These are really shadows of the blood vessels in the retina. The experiment is more successful if an image of a bright light-source is focused on the sclerotic near the cornea. If this image of the light-source is moved, the tree-like image seen in the visual field will also move.

The rate of growth and decay of various color-sensations varies considerably. By taking advantage of this fact many optical illusions can be produced. In fact, the careful observer will encounter many optical illusions which may be readily accounted for in this manner.

It may be said that in general the eyes are never at rest. Involuntary eye-movements are taking place all the time, at least during consciousness. Some have given this restlessness a major part in the process of vision but aside from the correctness of theories involving eye-movements, it is a fact that they are responsible for certain optical illusions. On a star-lit night if one lies down and looks up at a star the latter will be seen to appear to be swimming about more or less jerkily. On viewing a rapidly revolving wheel of an automobile as it proceeds down the street, occasionally it will be seen to cease revolving momentarily. These apparently are accounted for by involuntary eye-movements which take place regardless of the effort made to fixate vision.

If the eyelids are almost closed, streamers appear to radiate in various directions from a light-source. Movements of the eyelids when nearly closed sometimes cause objects to appear to move. These may be accounted for perhaps by the distortion of the moist film which covers the cornea. The foregoing are only a few of the many visual phenomena due largely to the structure of the eye. The effects of these and many others enter into optical illusions, as will be seen here and there throughout the chapters which follow.

Continue on to Chapter 3 on Vision and Optical Illusions

Chapter 2 - The Eye:
Anatomy of the Human Eye
1   2    

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About This Book Preface Chap 1, Introduction Chap 2, The Eye Chap 3, Vision Chap 4, Geometrical Chap 5, Figures Chap 6, Angles Chap 7, Depth/Distance Chap 8 Brightness/Contrast Chap 9, Color Chap 10, Lighting Chap 11, Nature Chap 12, Painting/Decorating Chap 13, Architecture Chap 14, Magic Mirror Chap 15, Camouflage

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