What Retinal Implants May Not Replace

Artificial retinal implants must adapt to the unique features of each person's eye to be a truly effective replacement. Richard Taylor, professor of physics, psychology and art at the University of Oregon points out that

“Remarkably, implants based purely on camera designs might allow blind people to see, but they might only see a world devoid of stress-reducing beauty. This flaw emphasizes the subtleties of the human visual system and the potential downfalls of adopting, rather than adapting, camera technology for eye.”

Taylor highlights that the eye tends to see what is directly in front of it – as the majority of its seven million cones are concentrated centrally – and less so on the periphery, whereas a camera captures everything in uniform detail with its pixels spread evenly across its entire field of view.

As such, the eye has to continually scan small areas to ensure that the image of interest falls mainly on the fovea – a pin-sized region positioned directly behind the lens that is crucial when visualizing detail. This is because the human eye exploits fractal patterns – geometric shapes that are present throughout nature and repeat themselves down to the smallest scale. If the eye employed the uniform distribution of photoreceptors found in cameras, there would simply be too much information for the brain to process in real time.

Furthermore, Taylor states how certain natural fractal patterns such as clouds, trees and rivers are more aesthetically pleasing and can greatly reduce stress. This stress-reduction process would not occur with a camera-based implant as movement in the eye would become unnecessary, eventually leading to the eye learning not to move and therefore not activating the relevant areas of the brain to relieve stress.

In his 1969 novel Dune Messiah, Frank Herbert describes Tleilaxu metal eyes that are used to replace eyes damaged in battle (watch out for those stoneburners!).

The native Fremen, however, refuse to make use of them:

"I offered to buy Tleilaxu eyes for him from your masters," Farok said. "But there's a story in the legions that Tleilaxu eyes enslave their users. My son told me that such eyes are metal and he is flesh, that such a union must be sinful."

Via IOP.

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