Vision express: Professor’s new book gives quick insight into the eye

Professor Land, a world authority on animal and human vision, has joined the ranks of eminent academics to pen a pocket guide in a specialist area for OUP.

From the simplest photoreceptors that can tell day from night, to the latest advances in retinal implants, Sussex Emeritus Professor of Neurobiology Michael Land’s latest book, The Eye: A Very Short Introduction, sums up what is known – and still unknown - about our most important sensory organ.

Professor Land, a world authority on animal and human vision and a Fellow of the Royal Society, has joined the ranks of eminent academics such as Mary Beard, Germaine Greer and John Gribbin to pen a pocket guide in a specialist area for Oxford University Press’s best-selling series.

In lay terms, he writes about how various types of eyes all evolved around 500 million years ago and explores what vision means in terms of perception, cognition and mobility.

“There are no longer mysteries about the mechanics of the eye,” says Professor Land, who has spent 50 years researching vision, “and we know a little about how the brain processes information from the eyes, but have no idea how we perceive this neural representation as being 'out there' in the three-dimensional world. The perceived world is quite unlike the image on the retina, and this is endlessly fascinating and surprising.”

The book touches on areas of Professor Land’s own research, such as the “arms race” in terms of eye evolution. As he says: “There are some weird and wonderful eyes out there. If you’re a predator you need to see what to catch, and if you’re prey you need to see what’s coming.”

He also refers to his own studies on human eye-movement strategies, such as revealing that when batting in cricket and table tennis, players unwittingly take their eyes off the ball before hitting it.

“It’s all to do with anticipation of where the ball will bounce,” explains Professor Land. “Our eye movement system will direct our gaze in advance of action. Whether we’re doing simple or complex activities, our gaze is typically a half to one second ahead of our motor action.”

The slim volume ends with a look at what happens when eyes go wrong, either with diseases that develop such as diabetes and macular degeneration, or inherited conditions, such as retinitis pigmentosa. Although most are currently incurable, Professor Land gives hope with outlining promising results in stem cell therapy and the advances in prosthetic implants, and assesses the potential of computerised visual systems.

 


By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Thursday, 5 June 2014

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