Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Eyes Evolved For 'X-Ray Vision': Forward-facing Eyes Allow Animals To 'See Through' Clutter In The World

Date:
August 29, 2008
Source:
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Summary:
The advantage of using two eyes to see the world around us has long been associated solely with our capacity to see in 3-D. Now, a new study has uncovered a truly eye-opening advantage to binocular vision: our ability to see through things.

The eyes of some mammals have evolved to point in the same direction. While animals with forward facing eyes lose the ability to see what's behind them, they gain X-ray vision, which makes it possible for them to see through the clutter in the world.
Credit: Rensselaer/Changizi

The advantage of using two eyes to see the world around us has long been associated solely with our capacity to see in 3-D. Now, a new study from a scientist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has uncovered a truly eye-opening advantage to binocular vision: our ability to see through things.

Most animals — fish, insects, reptiles, birds, rabbits, and horses, for example — exist in non-cluttered environments like fields or plains, and they have eyes located on either side of their head. These sideways-facing eyes allow an animal to see in front of and behind itself, an ability also known as panoramic vision.

Humans and other large mammals — primates and large carnivores like tigers, for example — exist in cluttered environments like forests or jungles, and their eyes have evolved to point in the same direction. While animals with forward-facing eyes lose the ability to see what's behind them, they gain X-ray vision, according to Mark Changizi, assistant professor of cognitive science at Rensselaer, who says eyes facing the same direction have been selected for maximizing our ability to see in leafy environments like forests.

All animals have a binocular region — parts of the world that both eyes can see simultaneously — which allows for X-ray vision and grows as eyes become more forward facing.

Demonstrating our X-ray ability is fairly simple: hold a pen vertically and look at something far beyond it. If you first close one eye, and then the other, you'll see that in each case the pen blocks your view. If you open both eyes, however, you can see through the pen to the world behind it.

To demonstrate how our eyes allow us to see through clutter, hold up all of your fingers in random directions, and note how much of the world you can see beyond them when only one eye is open compared to both. You miss out on a lot with only one eye open, but can see nearly everything behind the clutter with both.

"Our binocular region is a kind of 'spotlight' shining through the clutter, allowing us to visually sweep out a cluttered region to recognize the objects beyond it," says Changizi, who is principal investigator on the project. "As long as the separation between our eyes is wider than the width of the objects causing clutter — as is the case with our fingers, or would be the case with the leaves in the forest — then we can tend to see through it."

To identify which animals have this impressive power, Changizi studied 319 species across 17 mammalian orders and discovered that eye position depends on two variables: the clutter, or lack thereof in an animal's environment, and the animal's body size relative to the objects creating the clutter.

Changizi discovered that animals in non-cluttered environments — which he described as either "non-leafy surroundings, or surroundings where the cluttering objects are bigger in size than the separation between the animal's eyes" (think a tiny mouse trying to see through 6-inch wide leaves in the forest) — tended to have sideways-facing eyes.

"Animals outside of leafy environments do not have to deal with clutter no matter how big or small they are, so there is never any X-ray advantage to forward-facing eyes for them," says Changizi. "Because binocular vision does not help them see any better than monocular vision, they are able to survey a much greater region with sideways-facing eyes."

However, in cluttered environments — which Changizi defined as leafy surroundings where the cluttering objects are smaller than the separation between an animal's eyes — animals tend to have a wide field of binocular vision, and thus forward-facing eyes, in order to see past leaf walls.

"This X-ray vision makes it possible for animals with forward-facing eyes to visually survey a much greater region around themselves than sideways-facing eyes would allow," says Changizi. "Additionally, the larger the animal in a cluttered environment, the more forward facing its eyes will be to allow for the greatest X-ray vision possible, in order to aid in hunting, running from predators, and maneuvering through dense forest or jungle."

Changizi says human eyes have evolved to be forward facing, but that we now live in a non-cluttered environment where we might actually benefit more from sideways-facing eyes.

"In today's world, humans have more in common visually with tiny mice in a forest than with a large animal in the jungle. We aren't faced with a great deal of small clutter, and the things that do clutter our visual field — cars and skyscrapers — are much wider than the separation between our eyes, so we can't use our X-ray power to see through them," Changizi says. "If we froze ourselves today and woke up a million years from now, it's possible that it might be difficult for us to look the new human population in the eyes, because by then they might be facing sideways."

Changizi's research was completed in collaboration with Shinsuke Shimojo at the California Institute of Technology, and is published online in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Changizi's X-ray vision research, along with his research about our future-seeing powers, color telepathy, and eye computation abilities, will appear in his book The Vision Revolution (BenBella Books), due out in stores this spring.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "Eyes Evolved For 'X-Ray Vision': Forward-facing Eyes Allow Animals To 'See Through' Clutter In The World." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 August 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080828120312.htm>.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. (2008, August 29). Eyes Evolved For 'X-Ray Vision': Forward-facing Eyes Allow Animals To 'See Through' Clutter In The World. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080828120312.htm
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "Eyes Evolved For 'X-Ray Vision': Forward-facing Eyes Allow Animals To 'See Through' Clutter In The World." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/08/080828120312.htm (accessed April 21, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Monday, April 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Breakfast Foods Are Getting Pricier

Breakfast Foods Are Getting Pricier

AP (Apr. 21, 2014) Breakfast is now being served with a side of sticker shock. The cost of morning staples like bacon, coffee and orange juice is on the rise because of global supply problems. (April 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Newsy (Apr. 20, 2014) A 9-year-old Michigan boy was exploring a creek when he came across a 10,000-year-old tooth from a prehistoric mastodon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) Dairy farmers and ethnic groups in Vermont are both benefiting from a unique collaborative effort that's feeding a growing need for fresh and affordable goat meat. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) Andy Dixon showed the Daily Mail a screenshot of what he believes to be the mythical beast swimming just below the lake's surface. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins