Biological Machines/Sensory Systems/Visual System/Introduction

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Generally speaking, visual systems rely on Electromagnetic (EM) Waves to give an organism more information about its surroundings. This information could be regarding potential mates, dangers and sources of sustenance. Different organisms have different constituents that make up what is referred to as a visual system. A possible general pathway for what goes on in most visual systems can be seen in the following figure:

SensoryProcessing.png

The EM waves are collected by visual system sensory organs and transduced by cells containing pigments that react to EM waves of a certain range of wavelengths. These photosensitive cells will change polarity/voltage when exposed to EM radiation, where the intensity of the EM waves is perceived as brightness, direction is discernible with accuracy based mostly on the complexity of the particular eye construction found in the organism. The complexity of eyes range from something as simple as an eye spot, which is nothing more than a collection of photosensitive cells, to a fully fledged camera eye. If an organism has different types of photosensitive cells, or cells sensitive to different wavelength ranges, the organism would theoretically be able to perceive colour or at the very least colour differences. Polarisation, another property of EM radiation, can be detected by some organisms, with insects and cephalopods having the highest accuracy.

Please note, in this text, the focus has been on using EM waves to see. Granted, some organisms have evolved alternative ways of obtaining sight or at the very least supplementing what they see with extra-sensory information. For example, whales or bats, which use echo-location. This may be seeing in some sense of the definition of the word, but it is not entirely correct. Additionally, vision and visual are words most often associated with EM waves in the visual wavelength range, which is normally defined as the same wavelength limits of human vision. Since some organisms detect EM waves with frequencies below and above that of humans a better definition must be made. We therefore define the visual wavelength range as wavelengths of EM between 300nm and 800nm. This may seem arbitrary to some, but selecting the wrong limits would render parts of some bird's vision as non-vision. Also, with this range of wavelengths, we have defined for example the thermal-vision of certain organisms, like for example snakes as non-vision. Therefore snakes using their pit organs, which is sensitive to EM between 5000nm and 30,000nm (IR), do not "see", but somehow "feel" from afar. Even if blind specimens have been documented targeting and attacking particular body parts.

Firstly a brief description of different types of visual system sensory organs will be elaborated on, followed by a thorough explanation of the components in human vision, the signal processing of the visual pathway in humans and finished off with an example of the perceptional outcome due to these stages.