Seeing Is Believing — Part Ii


Last week I wrote about a blind spot we have in each of our eyes. Yes, we actually have a blind spot in each eye, and with a little effort, you can learn to see it. In case you missed last week’s column, we had some fun finding out how to do that. If you want to know how to do it, just go back and read the column.

Obviously, if I tell you our eyes are marvelous things I’m not telling you something you don’t know. But unless you happen to have studied them sometime or other, there are some things about our eyes that may really surprise you.

For example, you know how the ancients thought eyes worked? They got it exactly backward. They thought the eye reached out to whatever was out there, and grabbed it somehow or other. We know better now, of course. Light actually comes in “little packets,” as scientists put it, packets called photons.

The smallest amount of light is one photon. So take a guess. What’s the smallest number of photons a human eye can see?


That’s right, just one. The human eye is capable of seeing the very smallest amount of light there is!

I know what you’re saying, Johnny. “Oh, yeah? Then how come a cat can see so much better in the dark than we can?”

Easy. They cheat.

Photons are very small, and the rods and cones in our eyes are not packed close together, so some photons strike places where there are no light receptors. But cats cheat. They have a system that reflects back the photons that miss the receptors. So they kinda sorta use the light twice. Sneaky, eh?

“How come our eyes don’t do that?” you may be asking.

Well, I’ve been told that we humans started out running around naked in sunlit, grassy areas called savannas. We were daylight creatures, not night creatures, so I suppose we just never needed to see any better in the dark than we do.

I guess that explains that, doesn’t it?

Either that or I’m stuffed clean full of blueberry cupcakes.

Take your choice.

We humans have long treasured our eyes, so much so that a glance in Bartlett’s Quotations shows that there are more than 450 different quotations about eyes. And when it comes to someone swooning over a woman you can give 20-to-1 there’s going to be a mention of eyes in there somewhere. Like, “Those lovely lamps, those windows of the soul.”

Thanks, Guillaume de Salluste, Seignuer de Bartas, 1544-1590.

The silliest thing I’ve ever read about eyes — and therefore my favorite — is by someone called Gelette Burgess, 1866-1951.

Goes like this:

I’d rather have Fingers than Toes,

I’d rather have Eyes than a Nose;

And as for my hair,

I’m glad it’s all there,

I’ll be terribly sad when it goes.

Yes, we humans treasure our eyes. And we just can’t seem to get over saying wise things about them. For example, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

There are many, many pages of saying about eyes in books of quotations.

Maybe that’s why H. G. Wells decided to write a story called “The Valley of the Blind.”

Wells, in case you don’t know it, had an odd sense of humor, so he had his hero get trapped in a deep valley in the Andes where everyone was blind. The hero, of course, felt like someone very special, the natural leader of the poor blind folks. Until a committee of the blind folks grabbed our hero and told him they were going to perform a little operation on him to rid him of his “nervous tendencies.”

Guess what they were going to gouge out?


My! My! There’s a hero who zoomed straight up the walls of a very steep mountain valley he thought he couldn’t climb.

Like stories with a happy ending? Here’s another one:

I was born with very good eyes. I could spot a good looking chick at 300 yards when I was a kid, and I could bend down and focus on something so close it was almost touching my nose. Which means, my nose being as short as it is, I could see things that were very small.

But as I aged, that began to go away. I could still see beautifully up close, but things that were far away began to get blurry. Started in my late teens. Little by little I began to have to look harder and harder to see anything at a distance. And by my 20s “at a distance” got right down to 10 feet.

As I strolled across a lawn, the grass looked like green fuzz, the only thing I could read on a television set was the title of a movie, and people’s faces on the street looked like smears of tapioca pudding. So, I got glasses.

Worked fine for a long time, but then I went to college at 41 years of age and discovered a new problem. Sitting in a chemistry lab one day I noticed that I could see the page in my notebook when I was writing, but when I looked up, even with glasses on, it took a second or two before my eyes zoomed out on the chalkboard 30 feet away. Then when I looked back at my notes, it took a second or two before they zoomed back in again.

Went to the eye doctor. Bifocals, of course.

But then, at age 66, I came up here, and right away noticed something odd.

Every time I got new glasses they got more and more like plain old window glass. And then I stopped needing them altogether. I don’t even need glasses to get a driver’s license anymore. My license no longer has any restrictions on it.

I know what you’re saying, Johnny. You’re saying, “What?”

Yep. My eyes got better. All on their own.

Can that happen? Yes — if you’re nearsighted. You see you get nearsighted in your late teens because you’re still growing and your eyeballs grow too long. Light doesn’t focus on your retina. But as you get old, you shrink. And your eyeballs shrink too. So if you’re nearsighted, they just shrink right back to normal.

Now there’s a story with a happy ending!

There had to something good about getting old.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.