Natural History of Seeing

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Overview

The science, history, philosophy, and mythology of how and why we see the way we do.
We spend about one-tenth of our waking hours completely blind. Only one percent of what we see is in focus at any one time. There is no direct fossil evidence for the evolution of the eye. In graceful, accessible prose, novelist and science writer Simon Ings sets out to solve these and other mysteries of seeing.A Natural History of Seeing delves into both the evolution of sight and the evolution...

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Overview

The science, history, philosophy, and mythology of how and why we see the way we do.
We spend about one-tenth of our waking hours completely blind. Only one percent of what we see is in focus at any one time. There is no direct fossil evidence for the evolution of the eye. In graceful, accessible prose, novelist and science writer Simon Ings sets out to solve these and other mysteries of seeing.A Natural History of Seeing delves into both the evolution of sight and the evolution of our understanding of sight. It gives us the natural science—the physics of light and the biology of animals and humans alike—while also addressing Leonardo's theories of perception in painting and Homer's confused and strangely limited sense of color. Panoramic in every sense, it reaches back to the first seers (and to ancient beliefs that vision is the product of mysterious optic rays) and forward to the promise of modern experiments in making robots that see.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Science writer and novelist Ings (The Weight of Numbers, 2006, etc.) compresses an encyclopedia's worth of information about the evolution, makeup and function of the eye into an energetic, accessible volume. He fuses history, science and personal anecdote to explain vision as it belongs to "a commonwealth of the senses," while also relating the generations of brilliant researchers (Kepler, Brahe, Platter, da Vinci, al-Kindi) whose investigations cohere into the comprehensive understanding of sight and vision that we possess today. Exuding curiosity and awe, Ings delves into the wonders of trilobites and their compelling calcite lenses; the children of the Burmese Moken, whose pupils have evolved to shrink unimaginably small in order to increase acuity underwater; the connection among "night blindness," malnutrition, the retinal pigment rhodopsin and Vitamin A; the curious and revelatory Ophthalmosaurus fossil, whose vertebrate eyes contained bone. Alongside this technical history, Ings examines the philosophical implications of sight, exploring color as "a construction of mind" in addition to the reactions of rods and cones. The eye plays an important role in behavioral development, providing universal cues and expressions that build social skills starting in infancy. An instinct as simple as following another person's line of sight is an integral part of communication; only when sight is taken away do these basic facets of interaction reveal themselves as fundamental. The author concludes with a chapter discussing the possibilities of electronic sight, including ultrasound spectacles that convey information directly to electrodes positioned on the surface of the visual cortex, andprosthetic retinal implants that would enable non-damaged ganglion cells to bypass damaged photoreceptors and recapture light. At MIT, Rodney Brooks's "embodied" artificial intelligence could produce miniaturized robots whose vision-and perhaps cognition-mirror or exceed our own. These and other innovations are not science fiction, but modern-day accomplishments ushering in what Ings dubs "the Perception Revolution," which could very well redefine the way we see the world. A keen, colorful contribution to popular science. Agent: Peter Tallack/Conville & Walsh
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393067194
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/13/2008
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,425,097
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Simon Ings's most recent novel is The Weight of Numbers. His science features and interviews have appeared in magazines as diverse as New Scientist, Wired, and Dazed and Confused. Ings lives in London.

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Table of Contents

Prologue - Youth and age 1

1 The commonwealth of the senses 14

2 The chemistry of vision 52

3 How are eyes possible? 71

4 The adaptable eye 102

5 Seeing and thinking 128

6 Theories of vision 154

7 Nervous matter, visually endowed 181

8 Seeing colours 211

9 Unseen colours 244

10 Making eyes to see 264

Epilogue - The invisible gorilla 286

Further Reading 291

Notes 299

Picture Credits 311

Index 314

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