Seeing, Hearing, and Smelling the World

The Brain and Love A Day in the Life of the Brain How the Brain Grows Inside Your Brain Seeing, Hearing, and Smelling the World

D. Hearing. and Smelling the World Carl Y. Saab SERIES EDITOR Eric H.Seeing. Chudler. . Ph.

p.. Carl Y. or sales promotions. The author is indebted to Rafa for her editorial contribution and to Samuel Owolabi. Seeing. recording. for his review.8—dc22 2006024117 Chelsea House books are available at special discounts when purchased in bulk quantities for businesses. For information contact: Chelsea House An imprint of Infobase Publishing 132 West 31st Street New York NY 10001 ISBN-10: 0-7910-8945-2 ISBN-13: 978-0-7910-8945-3 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Saab. Seeing. Because of the dynamic nature of the Web. without permission in writing from the publisher. Series QP434. electronic or mechanical. All links and Web addresses were checked and verified to be correct at the time of publication.S22 2006 612. Please call our Special Sales Department in New York at (212) 967-8800 or (800) 322-8755. and Smelling the World Copyright © 2007 by Infobase Publishing All rights reserved. M. Hearing. institutions. and smelling the world / Carl Y. ISBN 0-7910-8945-2 (hardcover) 1. Saab. associations. cm. or by any information storage or retrieval systems. including photocopying. II. some addresses and links may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means.com Text design by Keith Trego Cover design by Takeshi Takahashi Printed in the United States of America Bang KT 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 This book is printed on acid-free paper. You can find Chelsea House on the World Wide Web at http://www.D.chelseahouse. I. Senses and sensation—Juvenile literature. Title. . — (Brain works) Includes bibliographical references and index. hearing.This book is dedicated to the animals sacrificed for laboratory research.

Table of Contents 1 Neurons and Nerves 2 Hearing 3 The Ear 4 Vision 5 The Eye 6 Visual Abnormalities 7 Smell and Taste 8 Synesthesia Glossary Bibliography Further Reading Index 7 18 25 32 43 62 68 76 88 92 93 96 .

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sounds. LIVING AND NONLIVING Any discussion of the senses should begin with the basics of biology. and odors into your own brain and the deepest memories of your mind.1 Neurons and Nerves Sensation is a long journey that begins when different stimuli (light for colors and gases for odors) come in contact with their proper receptor organs (eyes for light and nose for gases). All living creatures possess one fundamental feature: the cell. This journey of light or gas ends when the stimulus is transformed into messages that are created by connections between cells in the nervous system. This book takes you on this journey from the outside world of lights. The messages are finally transmitted to the brain for perception (light as color and gas as odor). 7 .

bacteria). and Smelling the World Figure 1. such as mobility. including a small insect such as an ant. requires . multicellular forms of life require multiple cell types and use sophisticated systems of communication between cells to sustain the life of the organism.1). Hearing.8 Seeing. Unicellular organisms are usually so small that they can be seen only by using a microscope (Figure 1. The most basic forms of life are made up of only one cell and are referred to as unicellular organisms. An example of a unicellular organism is a bacterium (plural. a single-celled organism that has a nucleus and characteristics similar to those of animals. More complicated. An amoeba is a type of protozoa.1 A common example of a unicellular organism is the amoeba. photographed above. Amoebae are most commonly found in freshwater. Any animal big enough to be seen with the naked eye.

water. to feel. however. Indeed. that neurons function differently depending on . How often do we identify a creature as “alive” by showing that it can move or an animal as dead if it no longer responds to a shout or a poke? Movement is caused by a class of neurons called motor neurons. For living organisms to obtain food. to speak. except plants) the essential requirements of life itself in the form of an action. Nutrients and oxygen need to be distributed efficiently to all cells within the animal’s body. generally through the blood that flows through multiple organs and to various cellular destinations. to locate prey. and air. as well as other classes of neurons. Like any other system in the body. they first need to be able to move around and sense the environment. or a feeling. the nervous system is made up of different types of cells that share similar shape and function. NEURONS AND GLIA Neurons are responsible for giving multicellular organisms (again. or even to chew the food and breathe (exceptions to this rule include plants. glia. Keep in mind. that help support and maintain homeostasis of neurons.2).Neurons and Nerves 9 food for nutrients and air for oxygen to survive. a thought. to forage for nutrients. Cells that form blood include red blood cells and immune cells. which do not move around or chew food as almost all animals do). Both motor and sensory neurons. have similar basic characteristics. to be able to use any body part. or even to think requires coordination by one system: the nervous system. The nervous system also contains another type of cell. whereas sensory experiences are possible due to another class of neurons referred to as sensory neurons. The functional cells that form the nervous system are mainly neurons (Figure 1.

When first discovered—and until about 10 years ago—glia were thought to play a supporting role by “gluing” neurons together. such as those in the brain or neurons that are more than 1 or 2 feet long. In fact. such as in the brain). and Smelling the World Figure 1. and their cellular content (neurons are made out of internal parts. Another general characteristic of neurons is that. such as those in the legs). Pictured above are three different types of neurons.2 The shape and length of a neuron determines the role it will serve in the nervous system. with few exceptions. scientists are just starting to recognize other important roles that glia play in maintaining neuronal . such as in the hand or centrally.10 Seeing. each neuron is either connected to another neuron or to a muscle (exceptions include those that connect to a gland or other visceral organs). known as organelles). their location within the body (in the periphery. Hearing. their shape (small neurons.

There is a complicated process behind how we react to a stimulus. however. and how our perception of that same stimulus . For pain messages relayed from the arm or the leg. depending on the synapses used to transmit that message. the first sensory neuron to signal the pain message could be as long as 2 or 3 feet (. a message has to be transferred from the brain to the arm (for movement) or from the hand to the brain (for pain). These messages are relayed from one neuron to another. In both cases. the tiny gaps where two neurons meet. the neurons can be remarkably long compared to the dimensions of the human body.9 meters). the brain has to command the arm. either between two neurons or among thousands! In cases in which only two neurons are involved. Neurons communicate through synapses. it would be communication. Two neurons typically share one synapse at their meeting point. it is not uncommon to find two neurons with multiple synapses. Even for a single synapse between two neurons. Certain neurons are in fact the largest cells in the body. pain is produced by the activation of specific brain areas.3). If one had to describe the most basic function of the nervous system in one word. Think about it: If a person wishes to move an arm.6–. The message also has to be sent quickly in order to produce an action without too much delay (Figure 1. Glia protect the nervous system against invading microbes and repair the system after damage (such as after a severe car accident or a neurological disease). the message transmitted from one neuron to another can vary. If a person places his or her hand over a stove accidentally. As a result.Neurons and Nerves 11 homeostasis. the message transmitted across the synapse can be subject to change (more accurately referred to as modulation) with time or depending on changes in the neuronal environment.

changes over time according to varying circumstances.12 Seeing. also known as a nerve fiber. Neurons grow and synapses are formed or broken down constantly in our brains and elsewhere in the nervous system from birth and until death. But nevertheless. One adaptive characteristic of the nervous system is memory—in other words. Speeds of different nerve fibers are compared in the graph above. and Smelling the World Figure 1. Hearing. They constantly evolve due to the ability of . Living organisms are not robots. depending on the type of nerve fiber. The speed of the signals can vary.3 Electrical signals travel along the axon of a neuron. neurons can learn. this process is reflected in the ability of the nervous system to change or adapt.

A message is relayed from one neuron to another.4). while long wires can carry a signal much further. Neurons are equipped with two types of extensions at the head or the tail end (Figure 1. and the flow of communication is secured. and bounce back. short wires carry a signal a short distance. generate energy. Neurons with long axons transmit messages that need to travel to faraway destinations. The cell body of the neuron contains the nucleus and the rest of the cellular machinery necessary to make proteins. Out of this cell body emerges dendrites (head) and an axon (tail end).Neurons and Nerves 13 the nervous system and synapses to adapt. such as sensory neurons in the hand relaying information to the brain about objects touching the skin. Sometimes the function of a neuron can be predicted based on the structure of the dendrites or the axon. Neurons generally receive messages through their dendritic synapses and send messages down their axons to synapses on one or many neurons. These simple rules and those highlighted in the previous paragraph are essential to understanding more complicated neuroscience facts. change. The same type of relationship is at work in the body’s nervous system. It is important that these messages are transported faster than other messages in the body (such as hormones . and sustain the life of the neuron. learn. some neurons have long extensions. NEURON = CELL BODY + DENDRITE + AXON Unlike other cells in the body. The arrangement of neurons is somewhat like the network of telephone wires that connects the homes and businesses in a city. which help them communicate over long distances. In a telephone network.

and dendrites. such as warning about very hot surfaces. which helps increase the speed of transmission of the impulse. Information . which is the control center of the neuron.14 Seeing. The cell body contains the nucleus. Sensory neurons communicate information that is vital to protect the skin and other body parts. Dendrites receive nerve impulses from adjacent neurons. Hearing. They are often wrapped in myelin. transported by the blood). axon.4 A neuron consists of a cell body. Axons carry nerve impulses away from the cell body. and Smelling the World Figure 1.

a condition in which different areas of the CNS degenerate. Some neurons may have multiple dendrites. Such neurons receive multiple inputs from many neurons (and thus from many axons) and could be recruited to coordinate or integrate multiple messages. Research into neuronal regeneration and stem cells may result in new therapies to cure paralysis and CNS degenerative diseases. and all neurons located outside of this central compartment are contained in the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system (CNS). cannot regenerate. The brain rests inside the skull. if damaged. Other types of neurons with long axons convey messages to the muscles for movement. and the spinal cord is found inside the vertebral column.Neurons and Nerves 15 about very high temperatures needs to get to the nervous system centers responsible for withdrawal of the hand as quickly as possible in order to prevent or minimize injury. Imagine how fast the brain needs to communicate with leg muscles to yield a smooth pattern of movement. causing irreversible paralysis and other problems. One example of CNS damage caused by a disease is multiple sclerosis. Paralysis after spinal cord injury is largely a result of the body’s inability to repair damaged CNS neurons. THE NERVOUS SYSTEM Two structures. separate the nervous system into two main compartments (Figure 1. . often referred to as a dendritic tree. Other tools also help ensure the best protection of the CNS for a good reason: The majority of neurons in the CNS. The thick bones of the skull and the vertebral column shield the CNS against physical injuries.5). the skull and the vertebral column.

5 The brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system. in contrast. examples include sensory or motor neurons. A typical example of PNS tissue is a peripheral nerve. The PNS. however. may contain only sensory or motor neurons or a collection of both. The .16 Seeing. A peripheral nerve. and Smelling the World Figure 1. Hearing. is able to bounce back from injury a bit better. A nerve is a collection of axons generally longer than those found in the brain. The nerves that extend from the spinal cord to the distant parts of the body make up the peripheral nervous system.

branches out into different smaller nerves as it travels away from the spinal cord. . like many other nerves. The sciatic nerve. which transmits sensory messages (such as gentle touch or painful pinprick) and conveys motor commands to muscles in the entire leg.Neurons and Nerves 17 most prominent nerve in humans is the sciatic nerve.

For example. imagine describing a color to someone who is blind or a smell to someone who has anosmia (inability to perceive odors).2 Hearing Sound. it is impossible to accurately describe such a sound to someone who is deaf. all of our experiences remain deeply personal. or smell—is never exact. is physical energy perceived by an organ in the body designed especially for this task. sharing all feelings that result from sensory perception—touch. In fact. in the end. There is no best way to define a sound that has not been heard before. sound. The violin is a 18 . To better illustrate this example. such as music and speech. Music produced by a string instrument such as a violin is one pleasant example of sound (if well performed!). especially if that person has been deaf since birth. Even close friends or family members differ in their interpretation of the same event or phenomenon.

the resulting energy is transmitted to neighboring air molecules (similar to how billiard or pool balls bounce off of each other).1). The violin. delicately built instrument with a common basic feature: strings attached at both ends. Air is formed of many molecules (mostly nitrogen and oxygen).1 A man plays a violin and appeals to the auditory senses. This highspeed vibration causes a similar vibration in the air near the part of the string where the bow strikes (Figure 2. As a result. is used in many different types of music. to move quickly with a speed referred to as frequency. the friction that results from this mechanical interaction causes the string to vibrate—that is. which is a string instrument. How does all this vibration . when air molecules are “pushed” to vibrate by the moving string.Hearing 19 Figure 2. When a bow is brushed against these strings.

◆ Attention: Although many sounds reach our ears. the waves that spread across the lake are infinitely larger. can result in sound. Hearing. The reaction typically takes the form of many rapidly expanding circles. This movement mimics the vibration of a string. Although the pebble may be the size of a fingernail. Mechanical friction of the bow causes vibration of the string in a violin and ultimately the sound that spreads throughout an infinitely larger space. although thousands of people may be screaming at a concert. we can only . Very weak vibrations may reach the ear but may be too weak to be perceived. it is necessary to understand how sound is created. we do not perceive all of them. Many conditions need to be met before sound is heard: ◆ Intensity: Faint and loud sounds reflect the strength (loudness) of vibration. . SOUND IS . air molecules travel by forming waves of compressed (packed together) and decompressed (spread apart) gas molecules. It is difficult to imagine how the motion of air molecules. Like ever-expanding circles of waves at the surface of the water. Sound is detected when vibrating air molecules reach the human ear. .2). so small as to be invisible to the naked eye. For example.20 Seeing. and Smelling the World and energy reach us as music? Before we answer this question. think of the smooth and calm surface of a lake and the disturbance caused when a pebble is thrown in the water (Figure 2. In order to visualize how sound is created. This is especially true of weaker sounds. with the point where the pebble hit the surface at the center.

which mimics vibrating air molecules. Another example is sleeping through an alarm bell. the brain is the organ capable of decoding and unlocking the secrets of sensory messages that bombard us constantly in a busy environment. Small defects in ear biology. even though it is loud enough to wake another person equally distant from the bell. ◆ Normal hearing biology: The ear is a complex biological organ with elegant morphology (shape) and design connected to the brain by neurons. connections to the brain. perceive a conversation within the crowd if our attention is shifted to these specific sounds.2 This bird’s-eye view of a pebble tossed into a pond depicts the way in which sound waves travel through air.Hearing 21 Figure 2. These sounds that we experience would go unnoticed in this universe without the brain. In the end. or the brain itself may lead to hearing abnormalities ranging from . The pebble causes ripples moving outward from the point of impact.

they travel in waves (Figure 2. First. This is largely due to the fact that water molecules are less free to vibrate than air molecules (forces of cohesion between water molecules are stronger than those between air molecules). Sound travels much faster underwater than in air. to complete deafness.530 meters per second (3. Another necessary condition is related to the physical property of the sound itself. Hearing. and thus can create a wave-like effect. because water molecules are closer together than air molecules are. and Smelling the World loss of hearing. In contrast. that allows the transmission of vibration. In fact. Imagine surfing at the beach and waiting for waves. the sound has to travel through an environment. What is heard underwater is mostly mumbled sounds that are much softer than those produced in air. even if sound travels through a medium such as air. It is made of molecules that bounce against each other and is capable of shrinking and expanding. however. Therefore.22 Seeing.3). to hearing abnormal sounds (even imaginary sounds). called a medium. As a result. imagine talking to someone underwater. CONDITIONS FOR NORMAL HEARING Many conditions are necessary for a person to perceive sound. or roughly more than four times faster than the speed of sound in air (343 meters per second. longer delays are related to waves being farther apart (longer wavelength). Air is the medium in which humans live. we may not be able to hear it if it falls outside of the certain wave- . 767 miles per hour). The time spent trying to catch a wave is directly related to the length or distance that separates one wave from another. When air molecules vibrate.423 miles per hour). the speed of sound in sea water is approximately 1.

and into the basement at nearly the same time. also known as the crest. One example is the sound of a special whistle used to call dogs. and amplitude. frequency. The wavelength is the distance from the top of one wave. Frequency is the number of waves per second. This vibration (or waves of molecules . lengths that the human ear can detect.3 Waves can be described by their three properties: wavelength. to the next. WHEN VIBRATING AIR MOLECULES REACH THE EAR Vibrating air molecules spread in all directions. out the front door. which the human ear cannot detect.Hearing 23 Figure 2. just as the smell of dinner cooking on the stove can reach upstairs to a bedroom. The amplitude measures the height of the wave.

smell. vision. which will also highlight similarities and differences among hearing. ultimately transforming mechanical air vibration into “sound” perception such as music. Hearing. Transformation by specialized organs in the ear from mechanical energy (vibration) to electrical and chemical energy: mechanical energy ∆ specific receptor ∆ electrical energy 2. speech. and other sensory perceptions. .24 Seeing. and Smelling the World compressing and decompressing) then undergoes two major transformations to make sound: 1. Transmission of nerve signals to the brain. or even random noise: electrical energy ∆ specific pathway within the nervous system ∆ brain ∆ sensory perception These two major pathways are discussed in detail in the following chapters.

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The Ear
The human ear is not just the part that “sticks out” from the head (outer ear). Another major part of the ear is hidden inside the head and connects to the brain (inner ear). Although the outer ear (pinna) looks complex, it is a simpler biological structure than the inner ear. The main function of the outer ear is to maximize the amount of sound that reaches the ear, almost like a funnel for sound. After being guided through the pinna, vibrating air molecules hit the eardrum (tympanic membrane). The eardrum can be compared to the surface of a real drum that turns tapping or striking into louder sounds. When the surface of a drum is struck, it vibrates and causes air molecules inside the drum to vibrate and “escape” out of the other end of the drum as loud drumbeats. In

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Seeing, Hearing, and Smelling the World

the case of the ear, vibrating air molecules gently “tap” on the eardrum, which then vibrates as well. Any matter lodged in the outer ear (wax or water left over from a shower or swimming) may obstruct airflow to the eardrum or may mechanically prevent the eardrum from freely moving and vibrating with air molecules. As a result, the affected ear will be less sensitive to sounds.

THE MIDDLE EAR
The outer ear (eardrum, ear canal) is connected to the middle ear by three small bones (the ossicles). These bones—called the malleus, the incus, and the stapes—are connected to each other and stretch from the eardrum to the inner ear (Figure 3.1). The main function of the ossicles is to relay the mechanical vibration toward the nervous system. The mechanical properties of these bones are unique in terms of amplifying eardrum vibrations and transmitting them to the inner ear with extreme accuracy. The point of touch between the bones of the middle ear and the inner ear is a thin oval sheet called the oval window. Physical damage to the bones of the middle ear may result in bumping them out of place or even breaking them, which will cause severe hearing loss. Medical intervention can successfully restore hearing loss that results from damage to the external or middle parts of the ear. Hearing loss caused by nerve damage within the internal ear is more difficult to restore and often is permanent. This is true for other sensory perceptions as well: Damage to the optic (“visual”) nerve results in permanent visual deficits including blindness.

The Ear

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Figure 3.1 The external part of the ear receives sound vibrations, which travel down the auditory canal toward the middle ear. In the middle ear, the auditory ossicles (malleus, incus, and stapes) connect to form a chain of bones that is responsible for transmitting sound vibrations from the eardrum (tympanic membrane) to the inner ear. The sound vibrations are converted to an electrical impulse that travels along the auditory nerve to the brain.

THE INNER EAR
The inner ear’s oval window is connected to the bone in the middle ear on one side. On the other side (closer to the brain) it is connected to a thin, spiral-shaped covering within a bony

The cochlea forms a closed compartment filled with fluid. Instead.28 Seeing.2 Inner (bottom row) and outer (three upper rows) hair cells within the inner ear are shown in this colored scanning electron micrograph. waves form in the surrounding cell fluid called endolymph. Small hair cells are immersed inside it. The waves cause the hair cells to move. these hair cells are tiny extensions with roots attached to a membrane (known as the basilar membrane). they are not biologically similar to typical hairs found on the skin or on the head (Figure 3.2). and Smelling the World Figure 3. Although referred to as hair cells. Hearing. which generates a nerve impulse that is passed to the brain. structure called the cochlea. The extensions float freely within the fluid space of the cochlea. which resembles a snail. . When sound enters the ear.

When the fluid inside the cochlea vibrates. How do we correctly guess the direction of sound? This question is especially intriguing when sound happens without any visual cues—that is. This is called a time . which then vibrates the bones of the middle ear. The slightest fluid motion is sensed by the floating hair cells. as hair cells sway. Consider. This interaction between hair cells and neurons is directly related: the “stronger” the initial vibration that is transmitted to the cochlea. for example. he or she turns to look for the source of the sound. when sound or noise is not clearly associated with a visual event. This sound will reach the left ear slightly before it reaches the right ear simply because the left ear is closer to the sound source than the right ear is. the “stronger” the excitation of the neurons. which begin to “swing” similar to the way algae or corals sway in shallow ocean waters when moved by gentle waves. THE DIRECTION OF SOUND When a person hears a sound. and thus the “louder” the sound is perceived to be. The answer to this question lies in how our system of hearing is set up.The Ear 29 Air molecules “tap” on the eardrum. Therefore. the “stronger” the hair cells sway. The roots of the hair cells are directly attached to neuronal terminals. their roots wake up the neurons. a sound coming from the left side of the body. the roots of the hair cells are gently pulled and stretched as they sway in the fluid medium. The middle ear in turn vibrates the oval window. This immediate attempt to locate the sound source is not random but rather is specific and well executed. which causes the fluid inside the cochlea to vibrate.

but from straight ahead? In this case. and Smelling the World Figure 3. Regions of each lobe are responsible for different functions. not only will the left ear receive the sound first. . and it alerts the brain to the source of the sound and may prompt an immediate rotation of the head in the direction of the sound. it will also receive a sound that is just a little bit louder than what the right ear receives. What happens if the sound comes from neither left nor right. delay. and vision. In the previous example. Hearing.30 Seeing. Another hint that the brain uses to correctly guess the source of the sound is the difference in the sound intensity that reaches the ears.3 The cerebral cortex consists of four different areas known as lobes. smell. such as hearing.

The auditory nerve transmits signals to many brain areas. The journey of air molecules vibrating because of drumbeats. If the visual event that goes with the sound is not obvious at first (for example. taste. Scientists are still figuring out the exact processes involved in touch. FROM THE EAR TO THE BRAIN Neurons in the inner ear gather to form the auditory nerve. including deep brain structures and the cerebral cortex (Figure 3. This limitation in understanding brain function and its relation to human consciousness is not limited to hearing. pain. a mosquito too small to be easily observed). clapping. or singing ends in the brain. . Mysterious as the human sensory experience is. where sound is ultimately perceived. smell. the brain will command the eyes to look straight ahead until the source of the sound is located.The Ear 31 sound will reach both ears at the same time (and with the same intensity). the way neuronal signals in the brain cause a sensory phenomenon is still being studied. and higher brain functions. vision.3).

Sight is similar to hearing in that they are both the perception of a physical event in our environment that a specialized organ (the ear for hearing and the eyes for sight) changes into an electrical signal that is then sent to the 32 . is our perception of light that is bright enough to stimulate visual neurons when our eyes are open (the term visual neurons here refers to neurons in our eyes that are sensitive to light). a falling star).4 Vision Sight is what we perceive when our eyes are open and there is enough light in the environment. The sight of lit objects. trees) or moving ones (a flying bird. and therefore any helpful discussion of vision must include an explanation of the physical properties of light and the reflection of light on objects to produce colors. Humans cannot see in complete darkness. including still images (photographs.

Why do you perceive objects directly in front of you better than those slightly to the sides but within your vision? ∆ Hint: Your field of vision has limits. 3. consider the questions below before getting into the details. do you always see clearly? Do you wear glasses or contact lenses? ∆ Hint: You focus for clear vision. The whole process of perceiving light is called vision.Vision 33 brain for processing. When you see. What are the conditions necessary to see an object? Can you see in total darkness or with your eyelids closed? ∆ Hint: You see “light” reflected off of objects. Keep the following sequence in mind: electrical energy (light) ∆ specific pathway within the nervous system (eye and connections to the brain) ∆ sensory perception (vision) 1. further analysis is necessary for normal and abnormal vision to be understood. 2. To better understand the process of vision. . 4. They may be obvious to some people. These questions form the basis of how vision works. What happens if your eyes do not focus together on the same object? ∆ Hint: Your ability to focus is limited. 5. but nevertheless. Why does the sound of a flying airplane usually seem to come after the sight of it? ∆ Hint: The speed of light is faster than the speed of sound.

1 The composition of an object affects how it reflects light. we see objects of different colors lit by an illuminating source—a lamp. Hearing. . the ultimate source of light is the Sun. The sphere at left is translucent. SIGHT IS . The sphere in the middle has a mirrored surface that reflects all light that strikes it. . Light that strikes a translucent surface is both reflected and refracted (bent). In this computer illustration. a car’s headlight. When . and Smelling the World Figure 4. we can see only by using artificial light sources. or natural sunlight.34 Seeing. Objects in that room can be perceived only when the light is on. With our eyes open. Why is light necessary for vision? Imagine standing in a closed room with only one light source. a candle. Without sunlight. the sphere at right is opaque and reflects very little light. For humans.

it can be described by its wavelength.1). objects disappear from our sight. For example. Switching a light from on to off does not cause objects to mysteriously vanish. light from a source one mile away reaches us in approximately five millionths of a second. The following concept is hard to grasp at first: Light is not infinitely fast. When light encounters an object. in all directions). Because of its extreme speed. Compare this speed to the typical speed of a car on the highway (27 meters per second. Light is similar to sound in a way. In this case.” or “brings them to life. The speed of light is approximately 300 million meters per second (approximately 671 million miles per hour). If the object is too “thin. . but this is not the case. the object is referred to as opaque (Figure 4. and the object is said to be transparent.Vision 35 the light is off. LIGHT IS . just like a ball bounces off of a wall. In fact. it may appear as though light is generated instantaneously. light travels at a defined and measurable speed. light may penetrate the object. Just like sound. Light is also a physical event (movement or vibration of photons) that obeys the same physical laws. When a light bulb is switched on.” Light is physical energy (similar to sound) that travels in space. light reaches us in almost no time for relatively close illuminated objects. It is more logical to assume that the objects remain where they are but that the light “gives them appearance. Sound is a physical event (movement or vibration of air molecules) that obeys physical laws (travels at a specific speed. 60 miles per hour).” however. . just like sound— although light travels much faster than sound. it will hit the object and reflect off of it. .

If the wheel rotated at a certain speed. the value for the speed of light was defined as 299. Hearing. The speed of light was more or less accurately measured half a century later by two French scientists (Armand Fizeau and Leon Foucault). as the wheel rotated with a known speed.355 miles per second.792. Taking into consideration the speed of the wheel.458 m/s (186. the light flickered through the gaps in the wheel and hit the mirror. Galileo timed how long it took before he saw the light from the other hilltop. and they stood on hilltops one mile apart. Galileo disagreed. He did not find significant delay because it takes light less than 10 millionths of a second to travel a mile. the light would not return to its source because it hit the teeth instead of the gaps in the wheel. which was too fast to be measured at the time. and Smelling the World Measuring the Speed of Light In the early seventeenth century. the speed of light was measured with an acceptable accuracy. Galileo flashed his lantern. the distance between the mirror and the wheel. Each used a slightly different technique but Fizeau relied on a lantern. and the assistant was supposed to open the shutter to his own lantern as soon as he saw Galileo’s light. and he came up with an experiment to measure light’s speed.” They thought that light could travel any distance in no time at all. a mirror. and a fast-rotating toothed wheel. The wheel was placed between the lantern and the mirror so that. In 1983. many scientists believed that there was no such thing as the “speed of light. The speed of light was further refined at the turn of the twentieth century by Albert Abraham Michelson to be 186. and the distance between two teeth of the wheel. . He and his assistant each took a shuttered lantern.36 Seeing.282 miles/s).

When illuminated objects are far away from us. Who would reach you first if they both run at the same speed? Similarly. . it does so with considerable delay. Animated photons vibrate at a certain speed and with certain. 2. It is thought that some stars we observe shining at night may not exist at the time we see them.000 meters per second. that star could have exploded and disappeared before its light reached you. What we see is relative to how far the object is from us. light “escapes” from a star and sets out on a long journey through the vast emptiness of the universe to get to you. The result of this is that the glittering stars we enjoy on a summer night may not be the real picture of what is in the universe at the time we are gazing up at the night sky. LIGHT PARTICLES TRAVEL IN WAVES THAT EVOKE COLORS What is the “physical” object that we call light that is capable of traveling from distant places? Light is made up of particles called photons. Light is created whenever an event frees enough energy to move. specific characteristics that determine the intensity of the light (brightness) and color (reddish for weaker light and bluish for more intense light). Photons are so small that we cannot see them with the naked eye or any type of microscope. This is because some stars are so far away that light from these shining stars takes months or even years to reach us.Vision 37 or that of a bullet fired from a gun (1. although light eventually reaches us. or animate. photons.237 miles per hour). Imagine someone running toward you from a starting point a few feet away and another person starting a mile away.

when light hits water vapor in the air during a light rainfall (or just after a heavier rain). a rainbow may appear. and Smelling the World Figure 4. White light is what you get when all colors of light combine (including blue and green).38 Seeing.2 Light that passes through a prism is split into the full spectrum of light. In fact. White color can in turn be separated into individual colors as it travels through space and encounters certain objects. which is actually a combination of all colors. Hearing. Another way to demonstrate the nature of light is by looking at a natural phenomenon that happens every day: sunset. the Sun is very bright and white. Each color of light has a specific wavelength. At noon on a clear day. That is because the sunlight is bouncing against the tiny drops of rainwater still hanging in the air.2). This splits sunlight into all the colors of the rainbow—or the spectrum of light (Figure 4. For example. This is the time of day when the Sun is directly vertical to the . ordinary artificial light (electric lamp) or natural light (sunlight) is perceived as white to yellowish in color.

and yellow light that cover the sky.3 A picture of a sunset reflected on a lake at Superstition Mountain Country Club in Arizona. Sunsets occur at different times each day and are noted for the soft shades of red. .Vision 39 Figure 4. orange.

and finally a reddish color as the sun sinks behind the horizon (Figure 4. In other words. Hearing. If asked to identify what we see. In addition to the less intense light. When the light finally reaches us. If the object is a simple box. and Smelling the World surface of Earth. however. AT FIRST SIGHT With an opaque object.3). Partly cloudy skies at sunset may appear completely red minutes before dark. The closer the Sun is to Earth (at noon). light is reflected off of it and travels in many directions. we usually start by describing the object’s shape and color. which results in a change in color.40 Seeing. Earth’s surface (at the point at which we stand to observe the sunset) rotates away from the Sun. This results in light . it does not actually dim the way a light switch in your home might dim. the light intensity of the Sun is still the same. When the Sun quietly disappears. it is less bright than at noon. including toward our eyes. but it loses more energy as it reaches us. sunsets are characterized by the smooth and rather pleasant transition from bright yellowish light to a “softer” orange. the more intense the light will be and the brighter the sunlight. At sunset. we describe it as such because light that hits the different corners of the box is reflected in such a way that the front edge of the box emits reflected light a bit more “strongly” than does the back edge (giving the impression of perspective). As we move away from the sun. the distance between the Sun and us increases. The shape is determined by the different reflections of the light off of the different parts of the objects. This makes it more difficult for light (made of photons) to reach us because the light has to travel a larger distance at the same speed it travels any other time.

When light hits a red delicious apple. then. So what exactly is color. you might wonder why certain apples look red and not blue or green. green. Why. even though air is also transparent. however. In a similar way. we see the apple as red. though. objects must be opaque (not see-through) in order for them to “have color. but that it can be split into the colors of the rainbow. glass looks clear because light passes right through and does not break up.Vision 41 that reaches our eyes at different intensities. “My house is brown. if the ocean is made of water. or gray? Let’s start with the first question: The sky looks blue because of a layer of air in the sky that reflects the light as . which is reflected back and absorbed by our eyes. does it look blue. then? First of all. we perceive the shape and color of the object. Where does the quality of redness come from? Remember that all light is white. Stated differently.” or “My shirt is red. will retain the shape of the fist.” Once you know that. when all they do is reflect light. when hit with your fist. They simply reflect light. light that hits an object will retain the exact form of that object and reflect it in many directions. This is because the apple absorbs all the colors in the light spectrum except red. LIFE IN COLORS Shape. Once reflected light reaches our eyes. does the sky on a clear day appear blue? And why. But though you might say. and dimension are what we see in any object. Transparent objects. light reflected off of objects can be compared to a mold or cast that. color. do not react this way to light. For example.” objects do not “have” colors.

That bright blue sky is part of what causes ocean water to look blue. On a cloudy day. that same ocean will appear pale or whiter than usual because white light from the clouds is reflected in the water. A clean. . healthy ocean looks blue on a sunny day because it reflects the color of the sky. The surface of the ocean reflects the blue sky almost like a mirror. Molecules of air in that layer split up the white light from the sun. Ocean life (plant and animals) and sand are opaque objects that mix with the water to give it an opaque surface. too.42 Seeing. Hearing. and Smelling the World blue. which you see as the color blue.

A discussion of the similarities may help clarify how the nervous system transforms light into vision and sound into hearing. but these two sensory organs have many features in common.5 The Eye It may sound bizarre to compare an eye to an ear. This will also answer the following questions and explain the links between other types of sensory perception and corresponding organs: 1. Are the light-sensing neurons in the eye connected to a nerve that transmits information about light to the brain? 43 . Does the eye contain specialized neurons that sense light? 2.

is not complete. and it is protected by an eyelid that closes regularly (blinks). Most often eyes move at the same time.44 Seeing. This meeting in the brain stem ensures that the eyes move together. The eye is controlled by muscles that contract to move the eye in all directions except backward. the eye actually rotates away from the side of the contracting muscle and toward the muscle that is simultaneously relaxing. but they also receive similar commands from neuronal pathways. EYE MOVEMENTS Unlike the human ear. These are the extraocular muscles. Can the human eye detect all visual stimuli detected by other animals such as cats or bats? In contrast to the ear. Hearing. However. Eye movements are mostly under conscious control and therefore obey brain commands. and rotating the head is often necessary to follow a moving visual target. . muscles connected to the eye are themselves connected to the brain by nerves and respond to brain commands for eye movements. however. and Smelling the World 3. the eye is connected to a set of muscles that allows it to achieve a wide range of motion without a person having to rotate his or her head to locate a visual cue. the human eye can move. This descending brain control first comes from both sides of the brain (the left side of the brain controls the right eye and vice versa) and then meets on a specific nucleus in the brain stem before separating again into left and right muscle command pathways. A set of two muscles connected to either side of the eye permits left or right gaze. Accordingly. Not only are both eyes under conscious brain control. This range. and in the same speed and direction.

which starts from the cornea and the optic nerve in the eye and goes to the back of the brain (Figure 5.1 The eye converts light into electrical signals that are passed on to the brain by the optic nerve. .The Eye 45 Figure 5.1). ANATOMY OF THE EYE But what is the eye made up of? The answer to this question lies in the anatomy of the visual pathway.

Pigment in the iris gives the external color. more commonly. green. and Smelling the World The Cornea The front part of the eye is covered by a transparent sheet. Unlike most tissues in the body. that can easily be seen in the mirror. or. The cornea provides protection against physical damage and foreign objects (such as insects and germs) because it is as strong and durable as plastic. brown (or a combination of these colors) to the human eye. the cornea resembles a special glass that functions like the eye’s outermost lens. the cornea does not receive a blood supply (perhaps to remain as transparent as possible—blood vessels may interfere with light) and therefore relies on tears for nourishment. In contrast to the transparent pupil that it surrounds. a clear surface that covers the iris and pupil (discussed in the next sections). This focuses the light onto the retina. Hearing. which can be harmful to neurons in the retina. It is also as transparent and clear as glass to allow as much light as possible to enter the eye. Pigmentation may change slightly during the first year or two after birth.46 Seeing. It is in fact a muscle that cannot be consciously controlled. but eye color almost always remains permanent afterward. or membrane. The Iris The iris is the colored part of the eye. The cornea is also filled with many neurons that are sensitive to painful events such as rubbing or scratching the surface of the eye. In addition. Surrounding the iris is another . This membrane is the cornea. the iris is opaque. The eye is a fragile and important organ that is exposed to the outside environment. such as blue. Another role for the cornea is protection against damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation from natural sunlight.

having a dark pupil allows the human eye to absorb as much light as possible. becoming more visible. Dark fabrics absorb more light. Such conditions give the sclera a reddish color (red eye). the pupil’s diameter enlarges.2).The Eye 47 opaque surface of white color called the sclera. “trapping” more energy in the form of heat. the diameter of the pupil does change. which is surrounded by the iris. In fact. In contrast. Whereas the diameter of the iris does not change. The pupil of the human eye is dark. These blood vessels may dilate. Small muscles in the iris adjust the diameter of the pupil. (That is a helpful tip for your next trip to the beach: remember not to wear a black T-shirt!) Likewise. you feel warmer wearing dark clothes than you do in paler colors. Dark objects absorb all natural light. the pupil is a “hole” that varies in size depending on the intensity of the light. When these muscles contract. pupillary contraction occurs when the iris muscles . Think of it this way: On a hot summer day. Although normally white. if you stand outdoors exposed to the sunlight. this process is referred to as pupillary dilation (Figure 5. while white objects reflect all of the wavelengths of light. thus widening the pupil’s size to allow more light into the eye. light first penetrates the cornea and then enters through a transparent “hole” or “window” called the pupil. The Pupil In the outermost part of the eye. when a person hasn’t slept or is exposed to prolonged high winds (driving with the windows down) or chlorinated water (swimming in a pool). the sclera has many small-diameter blood vessels that cross just underneath to supply oxygen and nutrients to neurons inside the eye.

relax. and Smelling the World Figure 5. it is referred to as a reflex. . Similar to quickly and unconsciously withdrawing an arm in response to a hot stove.48 Seeing. The size of the pupil changes rapidly in response to light. Extreme dilation is also known as mydriasis. pupils in both eyes will diminish in size even if only one eye is subjected to direct light. Pupillary dilation occurs when an iris needs more light. in bright light. Humans cannot consciously adjust the size of their pupils. Hearing. or it can be induced by drugs. thus decreasing pupillary diameter. Therefore. In fact.2 This photograph. iris muscles contract and decrease pupil diameter. this is easily observed when bright light is directed into someone’s eye. shows the human eye with a dilated pupil. if a person is aroused. taken in dim light. therefore.

The Eye 49 Figure 5. The signal is then relayed to the quadriceps muscle. which contracts and causes the leg to kick up. Unlike the knee-jerk reflex. The papillary reflex (increasing or decreasing the size of the pupils) works in a similar way. is controlled by neuronal structures in the base of the brain . the amount of light allowed to enter the pupil is an automatic action that occurs unconsciously. however. however. sensory neurons transmit a signal to the spinal cord. Pupillary reflex. the papillary reflex is controlled by neurons in the brain stem. When the kneecap is tapped with a mallet.3 A reflex is an action that is performed without conscious effort. As is the case of an arm jerking away from a hot stove. specialized parts of the spinal cord control the reflex (Figure 5. The knee-jerk reflex is controlled by neurons within the spinal cord.3).

and Smelling the World (the brain stem). Hearing. So. The Lens After passing through the pupil. Without a lens. As a result. unconscious person. so that each transparent object has a different refractive index. almost in an automatic or robotic way. They do this by directing a light into the eye of a traumatized. When body movements are well coordinated. which then takes care of the second-by-second control of the relevant group of muscles in the legs to work together. An absence of the pupillary reflex indicates severe brain damage that involves the brain stem.4). the pupillary reflex will be evoked in both eyes (even if the other eye is in the dark).50 Seeing. . Medical doctors and emergency health professionals use this valuable information to test for brain damage after events such as a car accident or a fall. if bright light is directed at only one eye. such as in eye movements. The pupils in both eyes contract or relax to the same extent. Light rays travel straight if uninterrupted. light would spread throughout the internal surface of the eye. transparent objects bend (refract) light differently. Neurons in the brain may also contribute to the control of walking and jumping in a different way: The brain sends a general order to a neuronal command center in the spinal cord. a mirror) or continue to travel through a transparent object but change from a straight path (Figure 5. it is generally a result of the synchronized control of neurons in the spinal cord (for walking and jumping) or the brain (for eye movements). but they may either reflect back on their original source if they encounter an opaque object (for example. The brain also sends another command to speed up or stop. light reaches the lens of the eye. walking or jumping.

4 Light is refracted when it passes through glass or the lens of the eye. light is highly refracted by diamond. therefore. The amount of refraction is equal to the difference between the angle of incidence (Θ1) and the angle of refraction (Θ2). a diamond has a very high refractive index compared to glass or water. The angle of the light that is refracted is known as the angle of refraction (Θ2). The angle at which the light strikes the surface is known as the angle of incidence (Θ1). the more the light has been refracted. The greater the difference. This loss of speed is evident by the transfer of energy from photons to . For example. resulting in a diamond’s shiny glitter. their speed is slowed by the atoms within the medium. As photons (tiny particles that make up light) cross from one medium to another (such as from air to glass or water).The Eye 51 Figure 5.

and Smelling the World the atoms that make up the transparent object. the ciliary body flattens the lens in order to bring objects into focus at a distance of 20 feet (6 meters) or more. This is because the lens becomes less elastic as people age. thus requiring “stronger” accommodation to “converge” them back into the photosensitive area in the back of the internal eye. The eye’s lens is connected to muscles located behind the iris within a structure called the ciliary body. Young children can see objects at very close range. clear images. To see closer objects. In people who have normal vision. whereas many older people have to hold objects farther and farther away to see them clearly. such as computers and televisions. depending on the location of the light source. It is important to note that distant objects tend to emit light in a nearly parallel trajectory. Because we are constantly bombarded by light sources at close range. Light emitted by closer objects reaches the eye along a more diverging path. The lens then adapts to different light angles to refract different light rays properly and “bends” them to strike the sensitive area in the back of the eye. the eye’s lens focuses light to form sharp. mainly in the form of heat (objects penetrated by light heat up). it is recommended that we relax our ciliary bodies by taking a break . this muscle contracts to thicken the lens (Figure 5. however.52 Seeing. Just like a camera lens. In this case. thus requiring minimal refraction by the eye for proper accommodation. The lens not only refracts light that enters the human eye. but also focuses it on a particularly sensitive area in the back of the eye for the detection of photons. Light rays enter the eye at different degrees.5). which refracts light more. The refractive index or power of the lens to adapt is a process called accommodation. Hearing. the ciliary body contracts and thickens the lens.

The Retina Light that enters the eye eventually hits the photosensitive area in the back of the inner eye called the retina. To focus on close objects. and looking at faraway objects.The Eye 53 Figure 5. the ciliary muscles contract and the lens becomes more round (bottom).5 Ciliary muscles relax and the lens flattens to focus on distant objects (top). for at least a few minutes daily. All of the structures in the eye serve three main . such as a landscape in natural sunlight. The retina contains a layer of cells sensitive to light known as photoreceptors.

tingle. Cones are also “tuned” to certain colors of the light spectrum and are better adapted for vision during the day and in bright light. which are named according to their shape (Figure 5. Hearing. (2) to capture light most efficiently. so the 6 to 7 million cones provide the eye with color sensitivity. pressure. There are two types of photoreceptors in the human eye.54 Seeing. rods are better adapted for dark vision or vision in dim light. The photoreceptors are connected to neurons that transfer light-related information to the brain so we can see objects. normal vision is impossible. and Smelling the World purposes: (1) to protect the eye from foreign objects such as insects and microbes. every object has a temperature that is detected by specialized receptors on our skin. and thus they are referred to as cones or rods. Cones are more sensitive to color. and (3) to focus light on photoreceptors in the retina. but also in how they work. Without the retina. When a stimulus in the environment comes in contact with our skin. They differ not only in size and shape.6). Neurons then transform these physical phenomena (touch and temperature) into sensory experiences that are often memorable if either pleasant (such as a kiss) or unpleasant (such as a burn). These photoreceptors resemble a cone or a rod. however. This principle of transforming physical energy from the external environment into codes that the brain can decode as sensation also applies to vision. In contrast. Light focused on the retina excites photoreceptors that create electrical activity that in turn excites neurons connected to these receptors. Cones also detect details in a visual stimulus such as small-type on a page or the fine . or pinch depending on the properties of the stimulus. Rods are more numerous (roughly 120 million per eye) and are more sensitive to brightness or light intensity than cones. In addition. we perceive the touch sensation as a gentle stroke.

a cross-section of the human retina. In contrast.The Eye 55 Figure 5. . texture of an object. rods tend to be less sensitive to details and rely mostly on the general features of an object such as its outline or rough dimensions such as height. while the cone cells (yellow) are responsible for color vision and acuity. containing photoreceptor cells known as rods and cones. The rod cells (white) are responsible for distinguishing between light and dark.6 Above. a thin membrane that lines the back of the eyeball.

the Fovea. The fovea is the point of sharpest vision because of the high density of cones. A legally blind person can detect some light. . each group of cones may be sensitive to different wavelengths of light. and Smelling the World The Macula. which is blindness as defined by law. and shapes. Cones allow humans to have sharp vision. an even smaller area called the foveola is more densely packed with cones. rough shadows. where cones are found in the highest density. The eye moves constantly to keep the source of light reflected from the object of interest falling on the fovea. but not letters or signs. Cones also provide the eye’s color sensitivity. In addition. at the center of the macula. therefore. “Green” and “blue” cones make up the rest of the population. and the Foveola Photoreceptors and neurons within the retina are not spread out on the retinal surface equally. The “green” and “red” cones are concentrated in the fovea centralis. It is estimated that millions of cones—more than half of the cone population—can be classified as “red” cones. Hearing. leading to some distinctions in the eye’s perception of the color blue. there is a smaller area where only cones. whereas light reflected from a red apple will stimulate “red” cones much more than the “green” or “blue” cones. These cells are densely packed within one area of the retina called the macula. are found. Each group of cones responds in different ways to different colors. Natural light is the combination of all colors. would be expected to stimulate all types of cones in the fovea. In fact. the fovea).56 Seeing. The “blue” cones have the highest sensitivity and are mostly found outside the fovea. Loss of cones or damage to the retina at the macula causes legal blindness. and no rods. This area in the macula is called the fovea centralis (or simply. Daylight. Within the fovea.

The Eye 57 The World Upside Down Light waves from an object. the circular opening in the center of the colored iris. it is restored to its correct orientation. The light then progresses through the pupil. . which is the clear dome at the front of the eye. which is located immediately behind the iris and the pupil. to a nodal point (N) located immediately behind the back surface of the lens. Images formed on the retina are reversed and upside down. the light passes through the crystalline lens. Next. When the image is processed by the brain. enter the eye first through the cornea. Initially. At that point. the light waves are bent by the cornea and then further by the crystalline lens. the image becomes reversed (turned backward) and inverted (turned upside down). such as a tree.

respond to both weak and strong light.” such as that produced by a car’s headlights. a person must look straight at the object in question by coordinating eye movements and head rotation to bring that object into his or her central field of vision. or when driving in the open on a clear day and suddenly entering a tunnel. This is partly why cars are equipped with red taillights. cones are in fact less sensitive to light than rods are. For example. This type of vision is mediated by cones. It turns out that rods require more time (a few seconds to as much as 10 to 20 minutes) than cones to adapt when suddenly exposed to light. a person needs a few minutes to adjust fully when stepping from bright daylight into a dark room. Rods are incredibly efficient photoreceptors. Being less sensitive to light.58 Seeing. Rod Photoreceptors In spite of the contribution of cones to color vision and sharpness of vision. the ability to see details and colors is dependent on light hitting the fovea. In other words. Differences in daylight vision and night vision can be demonstrated easily. and Smelling the World Because the fovea is located roughly in the center of the macula (itself located in the center of the retina in the back of the eye). Hearing. Cones can adjust to rapid color and intensity changes in less than a few seconds. which do not disturb night vision as much as “white light. being more sensitive. whereas rods. cones respond better to strong light. Daylight vision (cone vision) adapts much more rapidly to changing bright light levels. Night vision is not affected by colored lights because rods are not sensitive to color. about a thousand times more sensitive to light and much more numerous than cones. .

In fact. where it enters through the cornea and the pupil. Cones and rods contain different light-sensitive proteins. retinal is a derivative of vitamin A.The Eye 59 HOW DO CONES AND RODS WORK? From its source. In this visual pathway. where photoreceptors (cones and rods) await the light after its long journey in space and within the eye. it is commonly believed that eating carrots aids vision. light (natural sunlight or artificial electrical light) bounces off objects and toward the eye. cones and rods are neurons. the protein is called rhodopsin. The cones and rods contain proteins that are deformed by light photons and initiate a chemical reaction that results in an electrical current. Like all other neurons. Although there is some truth to this belief. Like all neurons. they generate electrical signals in response to proper stimuli or relay the message from other neurons. which simply takes longer in cones. it is misleading to think that carrots can treat serious visual problems such as astigmatism or cataracts. connected to other neurons. in turn. In rods. Because carrots provide a natural nutrient source for vitamin A. Rhodopsin breaks down into two different molecules called opsin and retinal when it is exposed to even one photon. The light travels all the way to the retina. Interestingly. Light causes electrical activity in rods and cones that are connected to other neurons that are. the message is carried from one neuron (starting in the rods and cones in the retina of the eye) to the next in the pathway until it reaches specific brain areas. The light adaptation is thought to occur through adjustment of this reset time. Brain areas that contain neurons that finally receive and process this neuronal electrical signal are located mainly . cones produce an electrical impulse that travels along the nerve fiber and then must reset to fire again.

The left side of the brain is responsible for processing the right visual field (red area in front of eyes). Hearing.60 Seeing. while the right side of the brain processes the left visual field (blue area in front of the eyes). All the light information that has been converted in the retina to an electrical signal is sent outside of the retina through the optic nerve in each eye.7 Visual signals crossover to the opposite side of the brain for processing. and Smelling the World Figure 5. Tracing the visual pathway from neurons in each eye to the visual centers in the back of the brain is complicated. in the back of the brain. because .

There are two portions of the optic nerve in each eye that meet in the middle of the brain. including in the brain stem. such as that for touch. This setup is not limited to sensory systems.The Eye 61 some neurons send their axons along a twisted path to many brain centers. but is also a property of the motor system: Willful orders to move the right side of the body are initiated on the left side of the brain and vice versa. whereby the right side of the body is “felt” by the left side of the brain and vice versa. This complex migration of nerves from the eye ensures that the left side of the brain is responsible for vision of objects viewed on the right side of the body (or in the right visual field) and vice versa. . This is not surprising if one compares the visual system to other sensory pathways. Beyond the optic chiasm.7). forming the optic chiasm (Figure 5. the nerves carrying visual information toward the back of the brain are referred to as optic tracts (instead of optic nerves).

Cones and rods in the retina are highly active (almost all the time your eyelids are open). The photoreceptors also generate waste chemicals as by-products of their high activity level.6 Visual Abnormalities The cones and rods are nourished by many blood vessels that lie just beneath the surface of the retina. forming a layer known as the choroid. 62 . requiring maintenance and nutrients from the choroid layer. This layer is called the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). The outermost surface of the retina creates a critical passageway for nutrients from the choroid to the retina and helps remove waste products from the retina to the choroids.

The damaged cells can no longer send normal signals through the optic nerve to the brain. Both of these conditions can be corrected by wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses. ◆ Astigmatism is a visual defect that causes blurred vision as a result of an abnormal curve of the cornea. These lenses help bring images within the retina in focus. Lacking nutrients. strabismus. farsightedness. . Similarly. and vision may become blurry. where the retina contains photoreceptors. Other visual abnormalities include astigmatism. If the muscles that control the accommodation power of the lens are weak. and color blindness. The main function of the lens is to focus the entering beam of light onto the retina. cataracts. The first three of these conditions relate to one common mechanism in the eye called accommodation. light from far-away objects will be focused behind the retina and therefore the image of the object will be out of focus. This is often the first symptom of the condition known as macular degeneration. Recall how light enters the eye through the cornea first and then through the pupil and the lens and travels all the way to the back of the eye. the light-sensitive cells of the macula become damaged. As a result.Visual Abnormalities 63 COMMON VISUAL DEFECTS The RPE normally deteriorates with age and can lose its pigment and become thin. nearsightedness. nearby objects could be out of focus with the image focused in front of the retina. the waste-removing and nutritional functions between the retina and the choroid can gradually deteriorate.

This condition tends to become gradually worse with age. Hearing.1 Nearsightedness and farsightedness are corrected by using a lens to move the focal point to the correct location on the retina. This causes the image of an object to form slightly in front of the retina. resulting in a blurred image of close objects (distant objects . making it blurry. ◆ Farsightedness (hyperopia) is a condition in which the incoming image is focused behind the retina. The path of light without correction is marked by black lines in the illustration above.64 Seeing. ◆ Nearsightedness (myopia or shortsightedness) occurs when the lens of the eye focuses light in front of the retina instead of directly on it (Figure 6. People with myopia do not see well far away but can see close objects clearly. Wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses can generally improve vision. Laser eye surgery is a treatment option that changes the shape of the cornea.1). and Smelling the World Figure 6.

Rather. Corrective lenses are not a good option for people with cataracts. Corrective lenses can help this defect. surgery to remove the cataracts is common. Although cataracts never cause complete blindness. It is generally . but the condition may get worse with age.2). ◆ Cataracts are a cloudiness of the eye’s lens that prevents light from reaching the retina (Figure 6. a person’s sight becomes limited and vision progressively worsens if not corrected by surgery. or all colors. some colors. and diseases such as diabetes can all lead to the onset of cataracts. Aging. are still seen clearly).Visual Abnormalities 65 Figure 6. opaque mass obscuring the pupil of the eye is a mature cataract. steroid use. It is advisable to treat cataracts at a young age to prevent permanent visual defects. ◆ Color blindness is the inability to detect or perceive one color.2 The grey. Having cataracts has been described as looking through a dirty window.

. can be used to prevent permanent visual defects. by disease (such as diabetes). ◆ Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the “external” eye. It could also be caused by a tumor growing outside the eye and pressing against the optic nerve. or old age may lead to blindness.66 Seeing. This condition is mostly genetic. The most frequent type of color blindness is the inability to distinguish red and green pigments. for example. It is associated with redness around the pupil and sometimes pain. This severe condition may be temporary or permanent. Unfortunately. surgery. it cannot be corrected. People with color blindness usually do not have other visual defects. especially early in childhood. Some forms of conjunctivitis result from allergies or a scratch on the surface of the eye and can be easily treated with medicine in the form of eyedrops. Strabismus results from a muscle coordination defect that may later lead to a visual defect because images formed on the retina may not match in both eyes. and Smelling the World caused by the absence of certain cones in the retina that are responsible for detecting colors. One type of conjunctivitis is called pinkeye. Hearing. Instead. Damage to any of the structures of the eye. interrupting the flow of information from the eye to the brain. can be caused by an object penetrating the eye and severely damaging the retina (where photosensitive neurons transform light into electrical signals). accident. Permanent blindness. ◆ Strabismus is a condition in which the eyes look crossed. Corrective lenses cannot solve the problem of strabismus. ◆ Complete blindness is complete insensitivity to light.

Visual Abnormalities

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Untreated visual defects may also cause severe headaches. Proper eye care may prevent damage that causes visual defects. Such care includes periodic eye exams by an eye specialist.

7
Smell and Taste
Smell and taste are chemical senses that provide us with valuable information to explore our environment. Thanks to smell, we are constantly testing the quality of the air as we breathe. Aside from being used to smell perfumes and food, the sense of smell can save lives. For example, people often detect the smell of smoke from a hazardous fire before they hear an alarm. Even newborn babies make faces that indicate their dislike of fishy or rotten odors; however, the sense of smell declines with age. Older people gradually lose their sense of smell to the point of being anosmic (unable to smell a certain odor or several odors, probably because of the loss of neurons). With the loss of the sense of smell comes the loss of the sense of taste. As is most obvious in conditions of nose blocks caused by a common cold or
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Smell and Taste

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a runny nose, the sense of smell contributes to the sense of taste (this is why food tastes different when you are sick and stuffed up). Smell and taste are both essential for animals to explore their environment. Some scientists estimate that humans can distinguish among as many as 10,000 different smells. Gases mixing with objects or evaporating from them carry certain molecules characteristic of these objects. These molecules may reach the nose and dissolve in the mucus, helping to generate particular odors. These molecules are referred to as odorants. To be able to reach us, odorants need to be volatile (dispersed in air). Our sensitivity to smell depends on more than just the strength of our senses. For instance, we are less sensitive to odorants in the cold for two reasons. One reason for this is that gases evaporate less in cold weather than in warm weather; therefore, spring and summer are the best times to smell. Another reason is that warm weather makes odorants more soluble and so they mix better with our mucus. This enhances our sense of smell. Odors are distinctive—so distinctive that certain animals, including common pets, use them to identify other animals or humans. Odorants can have a powerful influence over mating behavior, whereby secreted molecules may prepare an animal for pairing. In addition, strong odorants secreted in a dog’s urine are used to mark territory. In these cases, odorants are more accurately called pheromones (Figure 7.1). Although the sense of smell is highly developed in humans, pheromones are thought to influence human behavior less than animal behavior. The sensitivity of a dog’s sense of smell allows it to determine the direction or trail of a human by odor. Apparently,

therefore. a common form of communication with other bees. even certain types of twins have distinct body odors. when inhaled. Hearing. In the above photograph. who share similar genes. In fact.1 Pheromones are chemicals produced to send messages to other members of the same species. enter the nose through the nostrils. In the roof of each nostril is a region called the nasal mucosa. however. and Smelling the World Figure 7. also share similar odors. each one of us has a unique smell or body odor. . Identical twins. dogs cannot distinguish between identical twins based on odor.70 Seeing. THE NOSE Odorants. a honeybee fans pheromones from its Nasanoff gland.

Humans have approximately 10 million olfactory receptors.Smell and Taste 71 Figure 7.2). Inside the nose. The sensory sheath at the roof of the nostril also contains glands that produce mucus that bathes the surface of the receptors. an electrical signal is created and passed on to the olfactory bulb. Once a receptor is stimulated. This is where odorant gas molecules dissolve. air travels toward odorant-sensitive cells (neurons) that lie close to the bony structure at the top of the nasal cavity (Figure 7.2 Smell receptors are located in the nasal cavity. . which then relays the information to the brain. other animals such as rats and cats have more. This region contains the mucus-covered olfactory epithelium that in turn contains the sensory receptors or neurons. These cells have extensively branched dendrites with receptors for different gaseous odorants.

72 Seeing. the nasal cavity and membrane may be inflamed and neurons do not process odorants as well if the nasal cavity is very wet. This common type of anosmia is obviously reversible. Anosmia can be either the complete absence of smell or loss of the ability to smell particular odorants. caused by less serious conditions such as a common cold with a running or stuffy nose. Above the nasal cavity. Notice how we become accustomed to an odorant after we are exposed to it for a long time: We lose our awareness of the smell. Some odorants are strongly linked to powerful memories and therefore are processed by multiple brain areas. Other conditions may trigger anosmia. The brain processes this information as a perception of smell. ANOSMIA Severe head injury may damage communication among neurons in the smell pathway. The sense of smell also undergoes adaptation. whereas anosmia caused by brain injury is usually permanent. In this case. Hearing. a collection of axons forms a swelling called a bulb (one per nostril). These two types of neurons are separated by a bony structure with small holes that allow communication of electrical signals. Anosmia may also be temporary. A typical example of adaptation to smell is reduced sensitivity . these neurons generate an electrical current that is relayed to another neuron above the nasal cavity. including allergy to certain odorants or thick smoke. and Smelling the World When activated by an odorant. The axons then carry odorant information to the brain through distinct pathways. This may cause a medical condition known as anosmia.

(Many sour foods are healthy though—for example.) THE TONGUE AND TASTE BUDS INSIDE THE MOUTH CAVITY A multitude of colors and a variety of sounds can be distinguished using the senses of vision and hearing. or a combination of these four. citrus fruits. With taste however. are in fact toxic to humans. toxic materials tend to have a sour or bitter taste. Before meats and vegetables were available in stores. and salty. but it is the least understood. such as certain mushrooms. While gathering foods in nature. bitter. only four tastes. savoring food is not the only function of taste. TASTE The last sensory experience to be discussed in this book is taste. generally. Just like stimuli . it is natural to develop food aversion to bitter-tasting food. Chemicals within the mouth trigger each of these tastes. sour. can be distinguished: sweet.Smell and Taste 73 to one’s own perfume or natural smell after a short period of time. many would prefer to keep their visual and auditory capacity rather than the ability to taste food. However. Many chemical substances available in nature. people had to hunt for meat or grow plants for food. It is interesting to note that. This is not because taste is the least important of the senses. humans had to rely on taste to distinguish toxic substances from healthy ones. and therefore. Perhaps if most humans were asked to choose between losing sight or hearing versus losing taste.

.74 Seeing. the tongue is the major organ that contains taste-sensitive neurons. stimuli for taste are transformed into electrical signals in neurons that relay taste-related information from the mouth to specific brain centers for conscious experience. for vision and hearing.3 The above image is a colored scanning electron micrograph of the surface of the human tongue. A simple way to demonstrate the association between taste and smell is by considering how food tastes when your nose is stuffy. Taste buds line the surface of fungiform papillae (round. red). The tongue is covered with protrusions called papillae. the sense of smell also plays a major role in human taste experience. Hearing. Although it is common to think about taste being intimately associated with the tongue. Filiform papillae (pink) are the most numerous and give the tongue its rough surface. Inside the mouth. and Smelling the World Figure 7.

3).Smell and Taste 75 In the tongue. . Each bud contains taste receptors that can detect different chemicals in food (or other objects placed on the tongue). The number of taste buds is estimated to be approximately 10. taste-sensitive receptors are found in grooves referred to as taste buds (Figure 7. These receptors are in turn connected to neurons that generate messages that are ultimately sent to the brain.000.

1).8 Synesthesia We have learned about sound. “How can someone see an object that is not really there?” “How can someone hear a color or see a musical tune?” “Is this possible?” “Is there any plausible scientific explanation?” These are sensory abnormalities together known as synesthesia. or see noise.” A synesthete is not psychologically disturbed. sight. and taste phenomena. odorant. Let’s imagine. People who have synesthesia are called “synesthetes. and how people experience these audio. It then asks. visual. for example. so we hear colors. mostly abnormal visual experiences. This “mix-up” is thought 76 . a unique and rare sensory experience (Figure 8. smell. smell taste. This chapter looks at abnormalities. that our five senses get mixed together. and taste. He or she simply judges sensory stimuli differently than others.

a person with synesthesia might “hear” the color red or “see” music.1 Synesthesia can be described as the mixing of the senses.77 Figure 8. For example. .

Let us consider John. Synesthesia is a strange biological condition. When Eddie sees a red light. Let’s “see” further how this might happen . and Smelling the World to be caused by “cross-wiring” that occurs in brain areas that mediate these sensations. Mary. she feels a sweet taste like chocolate in her mouth. but it was not understood very well. Hearing. and Eddie to be synesthetic. he hears a soft melody instead. . Because synesthesia . When Mary is playing with her blocks. WHAT IS SYNESTHESIA? The word synesthesia comes from the Greek syn. . We will try to better explain synesthesia by answering the following questions: ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ When was it discovered? How did scientists discover it? Is it real or fake? What do people with synesthesia really experience? What does it teach us about the mysteries of the brain? WHEN WAS SYNESTHESIA DISCOVERED? Scientists have been aware of synesthesia for many years. he sees the color red. When John listens to music.78 Seeing. meaning “together” and aesthesis. the only difference is that some of their five senses are mixed up instead of being separate. or “perception. yet people who experience it are ordinary human beings in other aspects of their lives.” Certain synesthetes can hear colors. whereas others can see sounds or feel tastes.

. particularly in the brain. Scientists have only recently investigated the mechanisms that underlie synesthetic feelings and explored them within the nervous system. however. What they are sensing is in fact real (Figure 8. is not a “disease.2).” little attention was paid to the condition and only a few studies were conducted.Synesthesia 79 Figure 8.2 For many years. several experiments have affirmed that it is indeed a real condition. Several experiments conducted on volunteer subjects have reaffirmed to many skeptical scientists that those who can see smells or hear colors are not guessing or pretending. scientists have doubted the reality of synesthesia.

80 Seeing. making a clearer distinction between the black 2s and the black 5s does . Now consider the same square containing the numbers 2 and 5 in which these numbers are both in black color: 2552225 5252552 5522225 2255225 In contrast to the previous example. someone who happens to associate the number 2 with the color red and 5 with the color blue. for example. The only way to tell the difference would be to take the time to read each number. Now consider a volunteer synesthetic person. For this person. the numbers 2 (in red) and 5 (in black) are grouped together as follows: 2552225 5252552 5522225 2255225 In this example. it is more difficult to distinguish between the two numbers because they seem to be fused together. it is easy for a normal volunteer observer to tell the difference between the number 2 and the number 5 with a quick glimpse because 5 is in black and 2 stands out in red. Inside this square. Hearing. and Smelling the World A QUICK LOOK AT SYNESTHETIC EXPERIMENTS Here are the details of a modified experiment: Consider a square.

The same numbers were now put in a square. as follows: 5525555 5222555 2222255 2222225 Figure A 5525555 5222555 2222255 2222225 Figure B Results of this experiment were as follows: A. the visual stimulus of the square and colored numbers) or if synesthesia was merely a product of the imagination of nonexistent stimuli or physical objects. As expected. the square shown in the second example (both numbers in black) will appear as: 2552225 5252552 5522225 2255225 Scientists also conducted this pop-out test on volunteers to determine whether an individual who is synesthetic lives a real sensory experience evoked by a physical stimulus (in this example. with a quick glance at the numbers. For this particular synesthetic person.Synesthesia 81 not require much extra effort. . For a normal volunteer. but this time the 2s were grouped together to form the shape of a triangle. nothing unusual was reported. the subject saw black 2s and black 5s but no distinct pyramid (Figure A).

For a synesthetic volunteer. When light refracting from the number 8 reaches the retina of the eye. scientists have discovered fascinating facts related to sensory experience in the human brain. Many other experiments have been performed. and optic tract to the back of the brain. a synesthetic person might have a pathway for vision that leads to Y (that of smell) and a pathway that leads to X (vision). In a simplistic way. This book has discussed the mechanisms that underlie normal vision. Hearing. sound. WHAT CAN SYNESTHESIA TELL US ABOUT THE MYSTERIES OF THE BRAIN? We need to understand how a normal human brain functions in order to get a better grasp of how a synesthete’s brain works. however. Let us call that visual brain area X. the red pyramid was easily identified. Take the case of a normal subject “seeing” a number.82 Seeing. the synesthete associated the number 2 with the color red and the pyramid popped out. an odorant elicits a smell after it has been transformed into electrical activity that the brain smell area will decode as a sensory smell experience. smell. optic chiasm. and taste. In a similar way. and Smelling the World B. In this case. the number 8. photoreceptors in the retina (rods and cones) generate electrical signals that are relayed through the optic nerve. for example. let us call that area Y. and scientists now have significant evidence that synesthesia is real and that it deserves to be explored more thoroughly. Or. that person might have . In the course of their investigation. and how specific neuronal pathways transform various stimuli into electrical signals that are carried to specific brain areas.

9. 2 3 4 5 6 This experiment can also be done using letters instead of numbers.” Compare Answers #1 with Answers #2. 0. 6. Other synesthetics may have direct connections between X and Y centers with powerful communication pathways. 8. 9. After each number is read.html. 5. 5. Collect the answers.” Two to three weeks later. 2. 6. ask people to write down the number and what COLOR that they associate with each number. 8. 1 Read a list of random numbers between 0 and 9 at a rate of about one every 3 seconds. 1. For example: 3. 2. 7. 4.edu/ chudler/syne. Neuroscience for Kids. A person with synesthesia will have all or most of the same number-color pairs for both Answers #1 and Answers #2. repeat the experiment. 3. These will be called “Answers #1. 4. Eric H. For example: 7. 5. 0. 1. Collect the answers. http://faculty.Synesthesia 83 a vision pathway that leads to Y (smell).washington. Source: Chudler. but change the order of the numbers. . and a smell pathway that leads to X (vision). These will be called “Answers #2. so that any activation of X may also lead Synesthesia Experiment Here is a simple synesthesia experiment that you can try at home with a group of friends.

one can conclude that the brain can trick us. and Smelling the World to activation of Y. two heads can be perceived depending on the concentration or state of mind we are in. mood. one of the most influential philosophical minds of the twentieth century. It may elicit thoughts and feelings that others may not judge to be valid. we might think that it is a rabbit. The result is that we can change our perception of the drawing (flip back and forth between duck and rabbit) while the drawing itself does not change. how can we ever trust our brains? To take this point even further. Therefore. imagine you visit a Seeing and Perception To the right is an illustration called “Duck-Rabbit. FOLLOW YOUR HEART From the above examples. but if we focus on the mouth. He drew it to emphasize that “seeing” is not enough and that careful investigation and attention are often necessary to “look” and perceive a shape correctly. In this sketch. If we focus on the ears.” This is a copy of an original sketch that was drawn in June 1945 by Ludwig Wittgenstein. It is also an extremely valid point to make: The mind is made out of a bunch of connections between cells in the nervous system. Hearing. This is just a fantastic capability of the mind: to interpret what we see differently depending on our concentration.84 Seeing. and previous experiences. but our brains are not like machines and humans are not . If so. any visual experience would also cause a smell associated with an image. we are more inclined to say that it is a duck instead.

realities. they are just the product of our brains and what our brains decide to interpret like robots. Figure 8. remember that all of our sensory experiences cannot be analyzed or judged as unmistakable facts.2 Illustration of a Duck-Rabbit. . and what to you smells like an exquisite perfume may be intolerable to your friend. they can all “see” perfumes. What to one person is red may be orange or purple to someone else. Wouldn’t it be strange to be the only person who could not see odors? After all.Synesthesia 85 foreign country where the majority of people are synesthetic. the color red is “red” because the majority of us see it as “red”—but who is to say what is really “red” and what is really “green”? As you reflect on this dilemma. or universal truths.

In fact. experience. and our sensory experience would go largely unnoticed if we did not talk about it with others. not everyone totally agrees that what you might be wearing is a burgundy.86 Seeing. How many times have we “seen” something that others claim was not there? How many of us hold strong beliefs without scientific evidence? Sometimes we just go with our hearts and feelings instead of our rational minds. and often this is the best course of action. DO WE TRUST THE SENSES? BE CAREFUL WITH WORDS Can you describe a taste without saying a word? How would you describe “sweet” to a person who cannot hear you? How would a deaf person react to the cry of a baby? These questions are intended to emphasize the importance of language in communicating our sensations and feelings to others. With this in mind. Not everyone even agrees what classical music really is or what it should sound like. and memories. and Smelling the World depending on mood.” how do we know the other person really appreciates sweetness? Does “sweetness” give pleasure to everyone? Does everyone enjoy chocolate? Have you ever met someone who likes sour or salty or spicy food more than an apple pie? NOT EVERYONE SHARES THE SAME TASTE Not everyone likes classical music. Hearing. language is central to human communication. “This apple tastes sweet. Isn’t that confusing? By the same logic. a . what is the best way to pick the words that perfectly match our sensations? When we say.

trust your senses. or a “wonderful” experience. there must be a rule. some source that we can refer to for the final word in describing sensory perceptions. . Language is agreed upon by a society. Talk to others about it. In the end. if possible. Taken further. “bad” food. do not be offended if others do not share your views. The majority (but not necessarily everyone) accepts what is “good” music. you will realize that the way that we describe sensations is not written in stone. Travel overseas. keep your eyes open for disagreements regarding colors and odors. When you do.Synesthesia 87 reddish-purple. or a dark red shirt. different images. After all. . An anosmic person might walk next to a skunk and smile. Take your time to reflect on this rather confusing problem. In the midst of this confusion about how to bring all people into agreement with regards to words we use so frequently. not the words. a person who is colorblind might disagree with the rest of us completely. not exactly . and the wide variety of tastes. and get to know how people from other cultures are moved by different melodies. what is “green” to you may be “blue” to others. . or look surprised if someone else does not see at all what you see in front of your own eyes. which has occupied the minds of many famous philosophers. Next time you use similar words. Right? Well.

Decode To translate a code into a meaningful signal. Cerebral cortex The outermost layer of the brain. Dendritic tree An extension of a neuron that receives information from another neuron. Brain stem The region at the base of the brain that controls many unconscious functions. Bacterium A unicellular organism. to respond favorably to changes in the environment. including respiration and heart rate. may be one dendrite or many. Dendrite An extension of the cell body of the neuron that receives information. 88 . Central nervous system (CNS) The part of the nervous system contained within the skull (brain) and the vertebral column (spinal cord). Anatomy The physical structure of a body or its parts.9 m). Adapt To accommodate. forming a tree shape. Axon An extension of a neuron that transmits information to another neuron.Glossary Accommodation Ability of the lens to change shape in order to bring an object into focus. The human cerebral cortex is the largest part of the brain in mammals. Anosmia Complete or partial inability to perceive or smell odors. may be as long as 3 feet (0. Auditory nerve The collection of neurons that carry information transmitted from the ear to the brain for sound perception. Descending brain control Commands from the brain that travel down through specific pathways. Degenerate To degrade or shrink. which contains cell bodies of neurons.

Homeostasis Maintaining balance to achieve a beneficial stable environment. Glia Supportive cells of the nervous system that provide nutrients and maintain homeostasis of neurons. directly connected to the brain. Frequency The scientific description of the number of events that happen for a given time. the universal unit is the Hertz. . abbreviated as Hz or one event per second. Molecule The smallest unit into which a substance can be divided without changing its chemical properties.Glossary 89 Eardrum A thin membrane (also called the tympanic membrane) that separates the outer ear from the middle ear. a musical beat of three Hz is a beat that occurs three times per second. Incus Small bone (ossicle) shaped like an anvil that together with the malleus and stapes relays vibration from the eardrum to the auditory nerve for perception. Iris The contractile membrane of the eye perforated by the pupil and located between the cornea and the lens. Malleus Small bone (ossicle) shaped like a hammer that together with the incus and stapes relays vibration from the eardrum to the auditory nerve for perception. molecules are subject to forces that are either repulsive or cohesive. for example. Food aversion Repulsion from food because of a bad experience. or taste. A molecule is made out of two or more atoms. These molecules usually target organs of the body that could be far away from the gland. Inner ear The part of the ear inside the eardrum and the skull. Gland Body tissue formed by many cells that release small molecules into the bloodstream. Forces of cohesion Forces that bring molecules or objects together. Its function is to transmit sound from the air inside the middle ear. odor. Field of vision The part of space within sight.

Peripheral nervous system (PNS) The part of the nervous system contained outside the skull (brain) or the vertebral column (spinal cord). Odorant A substance or object that causes odor. Receptor An organ that receives or senses a stimulus. tissue. Photon A particle of light. Neuroscience A field of science related to the nervous system. Neurons Cells that are building blocks of the nervous system and contain a nucleus inside a cell body. or cell. . and dendrite(s). Outer ear The part of the ear outside of the skull and the eardrum. Pheromones Chemicals produced by living organisms that transmit messages to other members of the same species. Olfactory epithelium Cells lining the nose that contain smell receptors. Opaque Opposite of transparent. Photosensitive Sensitive to light. Nucleus A collection of neuronal cell bodies clustered together (or the part of a cell that contains genetic material). leading to muscular weakness or psychological deficits. Optic chiasm The intersection of the left and right optic nerves. Reflex A reaction that is fast and does not require brain commands (unconscious). Multiple sclerosis A disease of the central nervous system associated with degeneration of the myelin around the axons in the brain or the spinal cord. axon(s). an adjective that describes objects that deflect light (or reflect it completely) and therefore prevent light behind them from reaching our eyes (hide objects behind them). Perception Conscious interpretation of a sensory stimulus. Nervous system A collection of neurons that forms a network and includes the peripheral nervous system and the central nervous system. any neuron other than one in the brain or the spinal cord.90 Glossary Morphology The shape of a biological organ.

organisms such as bacteria (singular. Stem cells Cells that have the capacity to differentiate into different organs. Regenerate To regrow. Longer wavelength is a “slower” wave. Synapse The site of contact between neurons for the relay of messages. Wavelength If sound can be represented by waves. or a neuron. water has a higher refractive index than air and therefore “bends” or deflects light more than air. . an adjective that describes objects that do not deflect light and therefore appear “clear. for example.Glossary Refractive index The ability of objects to deflect light to certain 91 degrees. Stapes Small bone (ossicle) shaped like a stirrup that together with the malleus and incus relays vibration from the eardrum to the auditory nerve for perception. Unicellular Formed by only one cell. Spectrum of light The “rainbow of colors. bacterium). a stem cell can become a heart fiber.” allowing light behind them to reach our eyes (show objects behind them). wavelength is the scientific description of the distance between repeating peaks of the wave pattern. Visual cues Sensory information received by the eyes. a liver cell. Retina Structure at the back of the eye that receives light from the lens and converts it into a nerve impulse. Synesthesia Abnormal sensory experience.” or light of all possible wavelengths. Visceral Pertaining to internal organs such as the stomach (in contrast to somatic or external organs such as skin). Transparent Opposite of opaque. for example. for example.

. Eric R. Fahad. John.maricopa.” http://www.emc. http://faculty.clevelandclinic.edu/classes/109N/lectures/spedlite.html. and Thomas Jessell.” http://www.” http://www. Angevine.org/brain_atlas/Brainatlas_index.” New Horizons for Learning.” http://www. “The Nervous System.dote.brainexplorer.org/C006027/html-ver/nat-vel. “The Cleveland Clinic Health Information Center.html.J. The Human Brain. “Brain Atlas. Lundbeck Institute. “The Speed of Light. Leiner. et al.html Hegedüs. 2000. Leiner. St.shtml. Neuroscience for Kids. Farabee. 92 .Bibliography Chudler. http://library. http://www.org/neuro/leiner. Eric H.hu/anastru/anastru. Michael. “Speed of Light.phys.thinkquest.” http://galileo.edu/ faculty/farabee/BIOBK/BioBookNERV.newhorizons. Principles of Neural Science.. M.virginia. Sarabjit Singh.edu/ chudler/neurok. Cleveland Clinic. Katalin. Henrietta C. Nolte.htm. Kandel. and Jay B.washington. Louis: Mosby.htm. Fowler. Khowaja. New York: McGraw Hill. “The Treasure at the Bottom of the Brain.neuropat. “Neuroanatomy Structures and Their English and Latin Names.org/health/. Chen Jun Lee.” Thinkquest. and Alan L.html. 1995. James Schwartz.

Cells of the Nervous System. New York: Rosen.: Millbrook Press. How Our Senses Work. Conn. The Nervous System and the Brain. 2002. Smelling and Tasting.: Twenty-First Century Books. Alvin. and Laura Silverstein Nunn. Cleveland. New York: Scholastic. Donald. Silverstein. 2006. Brookfield. The Brain and Spinal Cord: Learning How We Move.: Twenty-First Century Books. 2005. The Senses. _____. Conn. 2001. Adolfo. Brain Facts. Brookfield. Brookfield. Open Your Eyes: Discover Your Sense of Sight. and Marta Serrano. Nuria. The Senses. 1994. 2004. Brookfield. Hayhurst. The Nervous System. Roca. Chris. 2001. New York: Rosen. Philadelphia: Chelsea House.. Conn. H. Newquist. Jennifer R. Vicki. Virginia Silverstein. New York: Rosen. Touching and Feeling. Feeling Your Way: Discover Your Sense of Touch. Philadelphia: Chelsea House. 2002. 2004. Jaime. How Do We Know How the Brain Works. 1996. Ripoll. Light. Walter. Philadelphia: Chelsea House.P. 2007.Further Reading Cassan. The Great Brain Book: An Inside Look at the Inside of Your Head. Evans-Martin. Louis.: Millbrook Press. 2005. Philadelphia: Chelsea House. Conn. 2002. 2002. and Ona Bloom. Cobb. Philadelphia: Chelsea House. _____. Morgan. Oleksy. 2005. Fay. New York: Chelsea House. Vera-Portocarrero. Philadelphia: Chelsea House. The Nervous System. 93 . Douglas.

kidshealth.org/brainweb/ How the Brain Controls the Heart http://www.html Brain Backgrounders http://apu.washington.dana.htm Medical College of Wisconsin Health Link http://healthlink.org/educate/syncope/brainhrt.html Sheep Brain Dissection: The Anatomy of Memory http://www.org/kid/body/brain_noSW.edu/article/924451309.html Nemours Foundation Kids Health http://kidshealth.imcpl.94 Further Reading WEB SITES Body Basics: The Brain and Nervous System http://www.org/index.html Nervous System Fact File http://www.html The Brain Is the Boss http://www.org/teen/your_body/body_basics/brain_nervous_ system.edu/chudler/neurok.edu/memory/braindissection/index.org/ Brain Web http://www.exploratorium.mcw.org/kid/talk/qa/taste_buds.cfm?pagename=brainBackgrounders_main Brain Museum http://brainmuseum.childrenheartinstitute.kidshealth.org/kids/guides/health/nervoussystem.html .html Neuroscience for Kids http://faculty.sfn.

Inc. 38: Infobase Publishing 39: Frank Zullo / Photo Researchers. Inc. Frank T. Inc. Dominique Duval / Photo Researchers. Voisin / Photo Researchers. ©Magdalena Bujak / Shutterstock. Inc. Inc. Cover: AbleStock. ©Andrea Leone / Shutterstock.com. 45: Infobase Publishing 48: © Dr.Picture Credits page: 8: © Wim van Egmond / Visuals Unlimited 10: Infobase Publishing 12: Infobase Publishing 14: Infobase Publishing 16: Infobase Publishing 19: © Shutterstock / Dennis Sabo 21: Infobase Publishing 23: Infobase Publishing 27: Infobase Publishing 28: Steve Gschmeissner / Photo Researchers. Awbrey / Visuals Unlimited 49: 51: 53: 55: 60: 64: 65: 70: 71: 74: 77: 79: Infobase Publishing Infobase Publishing Infobase Publishing Eye of Science / Photo Researchers. Scott Camazine / Photo Researchers.com. Inc. Inc. Inc. com 95 . Infobase Publishing Infobase Publishing Sue Ford / Photo Researchers. Inc. 30: Infobase Publishing 34: Laguna Design / Photo Researchers. Infobase Publishing Omikron / Photo Researchers.

58. 21–22 function. 11 E ear. 87 defined. 56. 78–79. 66 brain activities. 31 CNS. 24–29 96 . 21 organs in. 56. 64 auditory nerve. 41–42. 12 functions. 13 central nervous system (CNS) protection of. 59. 72 B bacterium. 59–61 and synesthesia. 13. 11. 63 treatment. 59. 30. 66 cornea. 63 treatment. 78.Index A accommodation. 49–50. 15 structures. 43–44 defects of. 31 axons functions of. 15 cerebral cortex functions. 66. 72–73. 34. 65 cell body functions. 15 structures of. 45 damage to. 73 and shapes. 11. 30–31. 15–16. 11. 13. 87 color blindness. 82–85 brain stem functions. 87 astigmatism. 63. See central nervous system cochlea fluid space of. 25–31 compared to the eye. 49–50. 66 function. 18 causes. 58 conjunctivitis. 8 blindness causes. 56. 11. 24. 32 morphology of. 63–64 function of. 15 diabetes. 63 anosmia. 46–47. 43–45. 8. 63. 28–29 color descriptions. 54. 26. 57. 54. 16. 27. 82. 15. 68–69. 56. 13–15. 66 diseases and defects protection against. 13. 72. 59 D dendrites functions. 21. 10. 61 C cataracts. 52. 76. 33. 75. 58. 7. 66 sensitivity. 18. 15 repair of. 44. 18. 56. 72 cones and color. 31. 40–41 and synesthesia. 82 loss of. 59–62. 65–66 communication systems of. 61. 23–24. 84 protection.

34 defined. 59 properties of. 47–50. 44. 7. 58 foveola. 46. 71–72 glia cells functions. 37. 40. 36 gases and odors. 56–57 M macula. 37–38. 57–60. 35. 54. 51 travel. 40. 37. 50–52. 43. 26–27. 86 lens damage to. 37–38. 36 food aversions. 72–73 protection from. 58 protection of. 56. 33. 59 waves. 76. 40. 18–24. 26 incus. 58 damage to. 46–47. 25–26. 43 and synesthesia. 43–44 defects of.Index emotions and moods control of. 67 compared to the ear. 69. 32–33. 38. 82 homeostasis of neurons. Leon. 63 macular degeneration. 56. 9–11 hyperopia (Farsightedness). See hyperopia Fizeau. 7. 84. 34–35. 31–32. 78–79. 59 spectrum of. 72 storage. 36 middle ear bones of. 43. 26 . 73 control of. 86 control of. 35. brain effects on smell. 15 signs of. 58 perception of. 36 sources of. 29. 45–61. 63 and colors. Armand. 56 photons. 26. 62–67 and light. 32 anatomy of. 57. 56. 40–42. 31 structures of. Albert Abraham. 7 Michelson. 82 care and exams. 73 Foucault. 32. 63 light absorption. 11. 40. 57 muscles. 35 reflections. 64–65 functions of. 56. 41 movements. 50 inner ear functions. 50. 44. 37 intensity. 29 damage to. 54 F farsightedness. 54 speed of. 47–48 97 L language. 64–65 I injuries. 50. 36 fovea. 41–63 activities. 41. 9–11 H hearing abnormalities. 51–52. 7. 35–37. 50–53. 31. 27–29 iris function. 86 eye. 34. 58 G Galileo. 12 and smell. 63 treatment. 56. 46. 53–54. 21–22. 63 memory. 82 research. 66.

11. 15 functions of. 13. 10. 11–15. 47–50 R refractive index. 9. 15 on sensations. 87 . 15. 15. 46 contraction. 9. 72. 36 malleus. 58–59. 49. 9 classes of. 9. 82 optic nerve damage to. 72 perception of. 11. 74–75. 11 paralysis causes of. 69–72 O odorants allergy to. 61. 46. 15 myopia (nearsightedness). 68–69. 31. 9. 82 photosensitive. 61. 82 homeostasis of. 7. 59. 21. 26. 26 motor neurons function. 9–11 structures of. 53 types of. 58 nose blockage. 69–70 photoreceptors. 18. 31 receptors. 26 stapes. 64 N nearsightedness. 31 on the speed of light. See peripheral nervous system pupil. 24. 16–17. 24 types. 63 treatment. 8–9 multiple sclerosis. 78 and stimulus. 59. 18. 16 pheromones. 62–63. 63. 29. 69–72 mucus in. 82 outer ear function of. 68. 63 pupillary reflex absence of. 43–44. 66 PNS. 69–72. 11. 25–26 obstruction of. 14–17. 43. 66 function of. 47–50 damage. 87 peripheral nervous system (PNS) functions. 45. 53. 71 optic chiasm. 15 and research. 50. 76. 15 multicellular organisms neurons of. 82. 15 perception and the brain. 50 function of. 11. 15 injury to. 71 damage of. 45 nervous system adaptive characteristics. 79 protection of. 57. 33. 84 neurons characteristics. 85. 72 night vision. 24. 12 functions of. 66. 47–50. See myopia nerves damage to. 54–56. 54. 26 P pain control of. 11. 61. 11 structures of. 50–52 research on neuronal regeneration. 75 and gases.98 Index olfactory epithelium. 9–14. 32–33. 26 signals. 60–61. 7. 66 function. 26. 16–17 movement and reflexes control of. 7. 56.

68–69. 46. 82–85 smell. 54–55. 76. 60 neurons in. 71 skull function. 29–31. 50 nerves. 69. 66. 58. 31. 82–85 defined. 76. 82–84 sight. 78–79. 85 taste. 22–26. 15 strabismus. 69. 79–80. 11. 72–73 and synesthesia. 46. 24. 76. 79. 59–62 photoreceptors. 79. 17 sensation research. 31 function of. 82–85 and taste. 58. 33. 18. 20–21. 24–25. 22. 82 Retinal Pigment Epithelium (RPE). 73. 61 senses hearing. 53–55. 19–20. 76. 22–23. 11. 31. 56. See Retinal Pigment Epithelium S sciatic nerve. 7. 15 smell activities. 18. 9. 66 functions of. 68. 66 synapses formation. 68–71 loss of. 86–87 touch. 16–17 protections. 23–24. 68 receptors. 54. 15 and synesthesia. 7. 63 treatment.Index stem cell. 86–87 control. 73 direction of. 73 loss of. 63–64. 29–67. 75 soma. 59 RPE. 78. 69–70 control. 78. 43–44. 20 defined. 73. 30 and synesthesia. 62–63 rods function. 26. 31 sensory neurons function. 31. 68–76. 18–33. 24. 72–73 sensitivity. 53–56. 82 and stimuli. 12 function of. 68–76. 29. 82. 69. 43. 23–24. 82 retina damage to. 78–79. See cell body sound attention to. 82 travel of. 82 protein. 74–75 99 . 78–79. 29–31 frequency. 82. 78–79 discovery. 20. 35. 14–17. 18. 15 stem cell research. 35 and vibration. 7 animal. 75 and synesthesia. 82 T taste. 20–22 detection. 78. 35 spinal cord functions. 82 types. 13 synesthesia and brain function. 18. 79–80. 19 intensity of. 44 wavelengths. 56 photoreceptors of. 80–83 research on. 35 and visual cues. 7. 76. 20–21 creation. 78–79 experiments. 31 function. 31. 73–75 and smell. 62–63.

73. 26. 41–42 and sound. 54–55 shape and color. 61 correction. 62–67. Ludwig. 59. 84–85 photoreceptors. 40 perceptions. 25–26. 82–85 W Wittgenstein. 24. 73–75 touch control. 40–41 sight defined. 32–33. 34–35. 18 and pain.100 Index activities. 79. 43. 33. 76. 15 vision abnormalities. 8 V vertebral column function. 31 tympanic membrane function of. 7 control of. 29–31. 35–38. 44 and synesthesia. 63–65 and light. 29 U unicellular organisms. 73. 76 . 84 tongue and taste buds.

Saab studies pain sensation and underlying mechanisms of abnormal pain. He is also an avid cyclist and an occasional disc jockey. Between 1991 and 2006. He is currently a research associate professor in the University of Washington Department of Bioengineering and director of education and outreach at University of Washington Engineered Biomaterials. Neuroscience for Kids. Chudler. ABOUT THE EDITOR Eric H. He has also worked with other neuroscientists and teachers to develop educational materials to help students learn about the brain.edu/chudler/neurok. at http://faculty. Chudler and the fascinating world of neuroscience by visiting his Web site. He is the author of several scientific manuscripts and neuroscience books for college students. He has worked at the National Institutes of Health and directed a laboratory in the neurosurgery department at Massachusetts General Hospital.About the Author Carl Y. Dr. Chudler’s research interests focus on how areas of the central nervous system (cerebral cortex and basal ganglia) process information related to pain.. Ph. Find out more about Dr. Saab is an active neuroscience researcher and assistant profes- sor at Brown University in Providence.washington. Chudler received his Ph. Chudler was a faculty member in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Washington. from the Department of Psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle.html.D. 101 . Dr. is a research neuroscientist who has investi- gated the brain mechanisms of pain and nociception since 1978.D. Dr. Dr. Rhode Island.

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