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Lightcolourvision’s March 2020 Newsletter

March 2020 NEWSLETTER

Kia ora to all our friends, supporters and visitors

In case all this is new to you, lightcolourvision.org is a non-profit project exploring light, colour, vision and also asks the question, how can we see more? In a nutshell, it’s all about making sense and developing our views of ourselves and the world. It’s designed as a resource for students, teachers, educators and researchers of all ages.

We launched lightcolourvision.org nine months ago and it’s a rollercoaster. The site grows every day as we add new content and functionality. Find out what we have been up to since our previous newsletter in the updates below. To see the site for the first time, or to see how it’s developed since your last visit, just follow the link below.

Home page

TASKS COMPLETED DURING THE LAST 20 WEEKS

Let’s start off with an update on what we’ve been up to since our AUGUST 2019 NEWSLETTER. This is just a summary, there have been many incidental additions and improvements to the site as well.

  1. Donations and payment gateways have now been added to the site. This is key to our fundraising efforts. We selected DONORBOX to handle the donations and STRIPE to handle credit card and Paypal deposits. Both platforms are widely recognised, have multiple levels of security and make the donation process as smooth and straightforward as possible.
  2. The HOMEPAGE now has a new DONATIONS PANEL featuring the new gateways. The panel alerts supporters and visitors to our current fundraising campaign. Donations can be made right there, but there is also a link to the new 2020 CAMPAIGN PAGE for those who want to know more.
  3. Every image in the RESOURCE LIBRARY has now been updated to the latest version, ensuring they all share a consistent format and quality. The result is images that load more quickly and are optimised for viewing on-screen. At the same time, we have updated the file formats of images available for download and streamlined the download process for users who need a copy for their own use. You can see thumbnails of the whole set here.
  4. Every page of the RESOURCE LIBRARY has also been rebuilt. This means that the pages that introduce and explain each image have been optimised for quick loading, consistent appearance and standardised features. With this step behind us, there is still more work to do to improve the load time of the whole site – but we are working on IT!
  5. Many more written explanations and Q&A’s have been added to pages in the RESOURCE LIBRARY. Around 80 pages are now complete which means there are around 60 to go. This is another major priority!
  6. We have decided to automate the section that explains KEY TERMS on each page in the RESOURCE LIBRARY. It took 6 very full-on weeks to resolve how best to implement this, but the final outcome will produce a more relevant, tailor-made selectionS of terms (and explanations).
  7. A new ARTICLE entitled The Visual Pathway has been completed and uploaded. This means that two out of the five articles currently in the pipeline are now in the public domain.
  8. A floating menu has been added to the lower left of every screen where visitors can CONTACT US, provide FEEDBACK and find out about GETTING INVOLVED in the growth and development of this wonderful project.
  9. An up-coming task is to create a new video for the campaign page. The current version was created for the original crowdfunding campaign last year. We are currently looking for a group of volunteers to help us with this project.

FUNDING AND THE 2020 CAMPAIGN PAGE

You won’t be surprised to hear that raising funds to cover the overheads and development of the site is a challenge.

Our 2019 Crowdfunding Campaign successfully reached its target and the $2745.00 raised was used to cover the costs of getting the site online, paying subscriptions for our tools of the trade and to cover the cost of the launch event we held at Parnell Community Centre, Auckland.

Our first strategy for 2020 involves a call to friends, supporters and visitors to help us pay the basic tier of running costs, a total of NZ$1716.00. We hope to complete this phase by the end of March. If you would like to take part, click the Donate Now button. To find out more please visit our Campaign page 2020.

Donate Now
The price of a coffee will help 🙂

FREE GIFT

In the last newsletter, we announced we were preparing a gift for all our supporters. It’s one of a series of animated images developed for the site. Belatedly, it’s now ready for you to download. You can view and download the animated version here. Once downloaded, simply drag the file into a new browser window (except Internet Explorer) then visit the tab anytime you want to zone out as the pattern unfolds.


UNIQUE VISITORS LAST MONTH

It is worth noting that the number of site visitors continues to grow steadily with well over 12,000 unique visits per month. This seems quite extraordinary and a wonderful affirmation that we are on the right track. It seems that most visitors arrive via a search engine, landing on a page matching their search terms. A simple test of this is to type light colour vision into the search bar of any browser. The results of an image search will produce anywhere between 10 and 40 results from our site. As time goes on, it should be possible to improve the relevance of the returned results as we focus more effort on SEO (search engine optimization).


SITE DEVELOPMENT

Our overarching focus as we develop the site is how best to bind together our core values, short-term objectives and long term goals. Let’s review the three of them now.

Core values

Lightcolourvision.org challenges contemporary threats to open, diverse, inclusive and well-informed communities by advocating and demonstrating an appreciation of and care for each other and our world. To achieve this, we disseminate information and promote discussion of the very real processes that interconnect and sustain us on planet earth.

We are committed to responding to the call for people to make web-content that is rich and relevant to communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity and use the open web as a global public resource for people everywhere.

Lightcolourvision.org is designed as a multi-disciplinary curriculum resource able to function effectively within a range of educational contexts. But it is also designed to play a part in ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated life-long learning. In both contexts, it aims to explore new and radical approaches to active citizenship, self-development and creative practices.

Short-term objectives

Our short-term objectives for 2020 are all about building on our 2019 successes. In summary, we have four main areas of focus:

  1. Functionality: Improve functionality regardless of the device used to view the site.
  2. Content: Add more content and improv how visitors navigate to the resources they need.
  3. Fundraising: The first target for the year is to cover our basic running costs. You can see our Budget: Basic running costs 2020 here. We need to raise NZ$1716.00. After that, it’s going to be about developing strategies to attract patrons, sponsors and regular donors.
  4. Online-community: We want to reach out to teachers and educators in Aotearoa New Zealand this year and develop our 2020 strategy through a more collaborative approach.

Long-term goals

We introduced some of the thinking about the connection between our short-term objectives and long-term goals in the last newsletter. Put simply, the website currently contains resources that investigate the connections between light, colour and vision and explores how they shape our understanding of ourselves and the world. But we want to go further and explore how we can change the way we see ourselves, each other and our world in ways that enable us to address the pressing challenges we are all facing in communities everywhere. We want to explore how to see more in both quantitative and qualitative terms and how to move beyond habitual and uncritical ways of viewing things, to see the world afresh, through new eyes.

Our 2020 strategy

With all of the above in mind,  we are putting a heavy focus on the site’s bi-line how to see more this year. At the same time, we are also making a major change to our approach to site development. The plan is to produce some material by running workshops. So we have begun work preparing for a workshop that explores the prerequisites of seeing more. In practice, this will mean that instead of starting with the physics of light and the biology of vision we will be looking at how to develop better ways of seeing.

Confused? Hang in with us! We are hard at work and will be uploading new material very soon!!

KEEP IN TOUCH
Thank you for reading our January 2020 Newsletter. We would love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts by clicking on the menu button on the left 🙂 Ric Mann. March 2020.

Posted on

Campaign page 2020

Kia ora and welcome

We would like to warmly welcome you to the Campaign Page (2020) for our non-profit website lightcolourvision.org

We created lightcolourvision.org to be an empowering and inspirational resource for students, educators and researchers of all ages who share our interest and concern for the lives and education of future generations.

As it’s name suggests the site explores light, colour, vision and how to see more. You can navigate to other pages on the site using the menu at the top-left of the page.

Donate Now
Even the price of a coffee will help us pay the bills 🙂

2019: Launch and proof of concept

We opened lightcolourvision.org for business with a launch party and crowdfunding campaign in May 2019.  50 supporters helped raise NZ$2745.00 which enabled us to go public and start to map out the road ahead. By the end of the year, the site contained over 550 pages and visitor numbers had grown to 12,000 per month. The table below provides a summary of the resources now available to visitors (all resources are free to download).

Lightcolourvision Jan 2020
PublishedDescription
Images (slides and diagrams)
134Visitors can instantly download high quality version of all the images we have created for the site by navigating to the Resource library.
Articles2We are in the process of publishing a series of fully illustrated articles exploring light, colour, vision and how to see more.
Resource library
138This library includes the suite of diagrams and slides we have created and supports them with full-page explanations and related information.
References library
264The Reference library includes definitions, explanations, summaries and quotes relating to the key terms used across the site. Each term appears on a separate page.
Questions and answers176The site includes a library of general-knowledge Q&A’s about light. colour and vision, including in-text links to the Reference library.

2020: Building on our success

2020 is about building on our successes to date. We have big plans for the year with three main areas of focus:

1. Content: Adding more content to the site and improving how visitors navigate to the resources they need.

2. Fundraising: The first target for the year is to cover our basic running costs. You can see our Budget: Basic running costs 2020 here.

3. Build our online-community: We plan to reach out to teachers and educators in Aotearoa New Zealand and beyond, inviting them to provide feedback and inviting them to get involved.

Donate Now
The price of a coffee will help 🙂

How you can help!

Explore the site and send us your feedback! What you see today is our proof of concept, a prototype demonstrating masses of functionality and a wide range of different types of content. We are keen to receive your thoughts and feedback on our work so far! So please use the feedback button on each page, and help us big-time with your comments.

Make a donation! Our first target for the year is to meet our basic running costs. So, we hope our efforts to date will inspire you to support what we are doing and help us build to the next level. You can make a donation using one of the panels on the right (Below on mobile).

Get involved! Become a lightcolourvision citizen. Find out more here.

The story so far

Over the last three years, we have developed the original concept for lightcolourvision.org into a fully-functioning website. Important choices have now been made between different kinds of functionality and features, and we have added a huge amount of content to this prototype. Visitors can now see the result of our efforts including pages and pages of content in both the Resource library and the Reference library.

During 2020 we hope to spread our wings further and start to build a bigger community around the site. With a little help, we plan to reach out first to organizations and individuals across Aotearoa New Zealand.

The vision

The website celebrates the common ground that binds human beings together in ways that we hope everyone can identify with.

Our approach to developing content is shaped by the fact that our thoughts are focused first on young minds and how to support them to make sense of themselves and their world.

Lightcolourvision.org challenges contemporary threats to open, diverse, inclusive and well-informed communities by advocating and demonstrating an appreciation of and care for each other and our world. To achieve this, we disseminate information and promote discussion of the very real processes that interconnect and sustain us on planet earth.

We are committed to responding to the call for people to make web-content that is rich and relevant to communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity and use the open web as a global public resource for people everywhere.

Lightcolourvision.org is designed as a multi-disciplinary curriculum resource able to function effectively within a range of educational contexts. But it is also designed to play a part in ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated life-long learning. In both contexts, it aims to enhance active citizenship, personal development and self-sustainability.

Thank you to everyone who helped us make 2019 such a success!!

YES!! To all of you, our supporters, THANK YOU AGAIN 🙂

Love and best wishes from Ric and Jules

**

The core team

We are Ric Mann and Jules Turner, the founders and the initial contributing editors of lightcolourvision.org. You can read background information and our personal statements here.

And in case you were wondering, yes, everything you see on the site today has been produced on a voluntary basis because we are both committed to this project big time!!

GOALS FOR 2020

Goals for 2020

Three over-arching goals for 2020 are outlined below:

2020 GOAL ONE: Commission the redesign of the site
The current design of lightcolourvision.org reflects the process we have worked through towards the proof of concept.

An important goal for 2020 is to give the site a contemporary interface with architecture that enables us to move from a free-standing resource to a platform that enables citizens (registered users) to get involved as contributing editors etc.

This means commissioning a web-designer who understands our values-based objectives and can provide the site with a corresponding look and feel. They will also help us to develop functionality that enables citizens to engage with one another in discussion and moderation of existing content and create new resources.

 

2020 GOAL TWO: Complete all sixteen hand-crafted articles
Complete the package of sixteen hand-crafted, illustrated articles that link our central topics of inquiry – light, colour, vision and how to see more.

These articles introduce and explore the interlinking clusters of concepts and terms that are used across the site. They also help to expose the underlying research interests that motivate us as we develop lightcolourvision.org.

The intention is that these articles clearly demonstrate the quality of content we aspire to.

 

2020 GOAL THREE: Build a community of citizens
In educational terms, an effective community enables its members to set goals, develop key competencies and realize their full personal and social potential.

We hope that everyone who signs-in, subscribes to our newsletter or provides feedback recognizes that they are valued members of the lightcolourvision.org community.

We see the idea of citizenship not as a static concept but as part of the process of growing an online community through a step-by-step process.

An important step for 2020 is to develop functionality so that visitors who sign in as contributing editors can communicate directly with one another and so enable a decentralized community of citizens with shared interests and a sense of shared ownership of the site and its content.

OUR AUDIENCE

Who is it lightcolourvision.org for?

Students

Lightcolourvision.org aims to enable students involved in their own lines of inquiry – writing essays, developing presentations, preparing resources or creating artwork. Others may use the site to check facts or to improve their understanding of the topics we cover.

Educators

The site aims to resource teachers and educators who need to access resources that enable them to engage students with the topics we cover.

Our articles, for example, aim to provide consistently argued overviews of topics that, draw on families of concepts and terms and are supported by a knowledge-base of definitions, explanations and additional information.

Our diagrams aim to provide an engaging and informative visual counterpoint to discussion within each topic.

Researchers of all ages

Our own academic, professional and personal research underpins the website. Our interests span the visual arts, the philosophy of design, visual arts education and curriculum development. We see lightcolourvision.org as a beacon for discussion of contemporary issues in a shadowed world.

We recognise that the needs of these three interest groups differ. With this in mind, the site targets a general readership first. As a result, content is organised so that the most accessible information is presented first, followed by additional content and links to further resources. Terms and concepts follow the same pattern, meaning that new vocabulary is introduced step by step and point by point.

ResearchClassroomStudent General
Images ????????????????
Explanations????????????????
Downloads????????????????
In-line links????????????
Bibliography????????????
Q&A’s????????????
Articles????????
Citizenship????

The relevance of content to different types of users

TARGETS FOR 2020

Targets for 2019

We have a set of targets for 2019 to do with adding content. You can get a sense of the range of tasks from the table below:

Targets for 2020
DetailsProgress so far
Edit and proof Final edit and proof of everything uploaded to date30%
ImagesUpload fully researched but unfinished content
ArticlesFinal edit and upload three more completed articles about colour
BibliographyAdd in-line citations, footnotes and bibliography
PhotographyEstablish the photography section

Working on the design and functionality of the site is a distraction from developing new content that we hope to overcome during 2019. The chart below shows progress so far towards our targets for the year.

 

Site content: Progress towards 2020 targets

CURRENT FEATURES

A list of current features and links to examples

FeaturesDetailsExamples
Images Library of images in the form of diagrams and slides supported by full-page explanationsExample
ArticlesLibrary of illustrated articles exploring light, colour, vision and how to see moreExample
ReferencesReference library of key terms used across the site including definition, explanation and bullet pointsExample
Q&A’sPop-up general-knowledge Q&A’s with in-text links to the reference libraryExample
In-line linksFunctionality that highlights keywords and links to the reference libraryExample
BibliographyIn-line citations and footnotes are used throughout the site and link to the bibliography.
Free downloadsFunctionality to download images and articles in formats suited to a range of different usesExample
CitizenshipFunctionality to enable and encourage user involvement

Table showing the existing features of lightcolourvision.org

FUNDRAISING AND ACCOUNTABILITY

Lightcolourvision.org operates under the auspices of MediaStudies Trust, an incorporated society registered as a Charitable Trust in New Zealand. The financial management of lightcolourvision.org, including all forms of fundraising and financial accountability, is the responsibility of the trust.

All funding campaign for lightcolourvision.org are intended to encourage support, involvement and collaboration in the project and help fund project development during 2020.

On-line fundraising powered by

Fully secured payment gateway

DONATE NZ$20 OR MORE (£10.50)

RECEIVE: Citizenship
Because you know you made a real difference!

INCLUDES:
Honorary citizenship (with no obligations).
Regular newsletter containing project updates.
Appreciation and thanks measured in tons.
**
Donate NZ$20.00 now

DONATE NZ$50 OR MORE (£25.80)

RECEIVE: Citizenship (Honours)
Because you know you made a major difference!

INCLUDES:
Honorary citizenship (with no obligations).
Regular newsletter containing project updates.
Appreciation and thanks measured in tons.
**
Donate NZ$50.00 now

DONATE NZ$100 OR MORE (£103.30)

RECEIVE: Citizenship (1st Class Hons)
Because you know you made a huge difference!

INCLUDES:
Honorary citizenship (with no obligations).
Regular newsletter containing project updates.
Appreciation and thanks measured in tons.
**
Donate NZ$100.00 now

Lightcolourvision.org is a non-profit project operating under the auspices of MediaStudies Trust, an incorporated society registered as a charitable trust in New Zealand

Posted on

Campaign page 2019

Kia ora and welcome

We would like to warmly invite you, as a member of our closest circle of friends, family and colleagues, to the launch of lightcolourvision.org, our brand-new non-profit website.

We have created lightcolourvision.org as an empowering and inspirational resource for students, educators and researchers of all ages who share our interest and concern for the lives and education of future generations.

The video above provides an introduction to the project and you can explore the rest of the website using the menu at the top of the page.

Come to the launch party

Your invitation to our launch party is in the panel below, so please RSVP and join us for a celebratory glass of bubbles as we thank everyone who has supported us on the journey so far and as we map out the road ahead.

Join our funding campaign

As part of our launch, we are running a crowdfunding campaign. You can help us by pledging right now using the panel on the right (below on mobiles). At this point, a pledge will make a massive difference as we set new milestones and pursue ongoing funding.

We aim to raise a minimum of NZ$2500. If things go well and we raise more, all additional amounts will go towards our current aspirations of raising NZ$12,000 during 2019. You can see an outline of our budget for 2019 here.

You can read an extract of the small print for our crowdfunding campaign here.

Visit the site and send your feedback

What you see today is our proof of concept, a prototype demonstrating both functionality and a range of different types of content. We are keen to receive your thoughts and feedback!

Read the paragraphs below to clarify what lightcolourvision.org is all about and then use the feedback button on each page, and help us big-time with your comments.

**

CROWDFUNDING CAMPAIGN

PLEDGES RECEIVED

NameAmount (NZ$)
Anon20.00
MiriamKauders100.00
KimTheeman100.00
GwynnRees20.00
TrishaMurdie30.00
ElisabethVaneveld50.00
OliAllen20.00
OliverCopsey50.00
Anon50.00
Bron and KentShelley50.00
SimonSmith20.00
ZoeCopsey20.00
MicheleJohnson20.00
JoGoffe-Robertson50.00
StuartMackay10.00
KatieSkinner25.00
RachelMann200.00
AnitaHeffernan30.00
RyaAllen120.00
JamesBaysting50.00
Anon20.00
TanCopsey200.00
AnnetteAshton50.00
SharonAllen20.00
JenniferDel Bel200.00
KaarenHiyama50.00
NaomiForrester10.00
NabahetHamdi50.00
SarahCrane50.00
EricMoskowitz100.00
GuyFarrar40.00
Peter and JoyceMann200.00
YvonneShorten50.00
MichaelEllis50.00
MaxThe Dog10.00
MonicaMann50.00
CatherineBoyd20.00
JanetteVercoe30.00
MichaelDemchy100.00
Lucy-MaeSparkle20.00
Anon20.00
SamSimmons20.00
MelissaDurbin100.00
Anon200.00
JenniferSalmon20.00
JulieSwasbrook30.00
VonneyBall50.00
Debbie and PaulLawrence and Barber50.00
PhillRooke40.00

NZ$ 2745.00 TARGET ACHIEVED!!

CAMPAIGN ENDED

12.00pm GMT 21st May 2019

**

Thank you

Thank you to everyone for your pledges. If you are having any problems making a pledge please Contact us.

Viewing this on your mobile? To see the full story swap over to your laptop.

To all of you, our supporters, THANK YOU AGAIN 🙂

Love and best wishes from Ric and Jules

The story so far

Over the last three years, we have developed the original concept into a fully-functioning website. It involved researching and making choices between different kinds of functionality and features, then designing and building this prototype. Visitors to the site can now see the result of our efforts including examples of a wide range of different types of content.

We now think the time has arrived to share the process we have worked through so far and celebrate the milestones that are behind us.

It’s also time to spread our wings a little and start to build on the community around the site. With your help, we hope to use our social networks as part of a strategy to reach out first to organisations and individuals across Aotearoa New Zealand.

Inevitably, we have had to cover the development costs so far. So, we are hoping that at this crucial point we can inspire all those who know and support what we are doing, to join our first fundraising effort.

We are confident that, with enough support, we can build on the proof of concept, the launch and the funding campaign to develop the initiative to the next level.

The vision

The website celebrates the common ground that binds human beings together in ways that we hope everyone can identify with.

Our approach to developing content is shaped by the fact that our thoughts are focused first on young minds and how to support them to make sense of themselves and their world.

Lightcolourvision.org challenges contemporary threats to open, diverse, inclusive and well-informed communities by advocating and demonstrating an appreciation of and care for each other and our world. To achieve this, we disseminate information and promote discussion of the very real processes that interconnect and sustain us on planet earth.

We are committed to responding to the call for people to make web-content that is rich and relevant to communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity and use the open web as a global public resource for people everywhere.

Lightcolourvision.org is designed as a multi-disciplinary curriculum resource able to function effectively within a range of educational contexts. But it is also designed to play a part in ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated life-long learning. In both contexts, it aims to enhance active citizenship, personal development and self-sustainability.

The team

We are Ric Mann and Jules Turner, the founders and the initial contributing editors of lightcolourvision.org. You can read background information and our personal statements here.

GOALS FOR 2019

Goals for 2019

Three over-arching goals for 2019 are outlined below:

2019 GOAL ONE: Commission the redesign of the site
The current design of lightcolourvision.org reflects the process we have worked through towards the proof of concept.

An important goal for 2019 is to give the site a contemporary interface with architecture that enables us to move from a free-standing resource to a platform that enables citizens (registered users) to get involved as contributing editors etc.

This means commissioning a web-designer who understands our values-based objectives and can provide the site with a corresponding look and feel. They will also help us to develop functionality that enables citizens to engage with one another in discussion and moderation of existing content and also enable them to create new resources.

 

2019 GOAL TWO: Complete all sixteen hand-crafted articles
Complete the package of sixteen hand-crafted and illustrated articles that link our central topics of inquiry – light, colour, vision and how to see more.

These articles introduce and explore the interlinking clusters of concepts and terms that are used across the site. They also help to expose the underlying research interests that motivate us as we develop lightcolourvision.org.

The intention is that these articles clearly demonstrate the quality of content we aspire to.

 

2019 GOAL THREE: Build a community of citizens
In educational terms, an effective community enables its members to set goals, develop key competencies and realise their full personal and social potential.

We hope that everyone who signs-in, subscribes to our newsletter or provides feedback recognises that they are valued members of such a community.

The idea of citizenship has already been introduced but growing an online community as clearly a step-by-step process.

An important step for 2019 is to develop functionality so that visitors who sign in as contributing editors can communicate directly with one another and so enable a decentralised community of citizens with shared interests and a sense of shared ownership of its content.

AUDIENCE

Who is it lightcolourvision.org for?

Students

The website aims to enable students involved in their own lines of inquiry – writing essays, developing presentations, preparing resources or creating artwork. Others may use the site to check facts or to improve their understanding of the topics we cover.

Educators

The website aims to resource teachers and educators who need to access resources that enable them to engage students with the topics we cover.

Our articles, for example, aim to provide consistently argued overviews of topics that draw on families of concepts/terms supported by a knowledge-base of definitions, explanations and additional information.

Our diagrams aim to provide an engaging and informative visual counterpoint to discussion within each topic.

Researchers of all ages

Our own academic, professional and personal research underpins the website. Our interests span the visual arts, the philosophy of design, visual arts education and curriculum development. We see lightcolourvision.org as a beacon for discussion of contemporary issues in a shadowed world.

We recognise that the needs of these three interest groups differ. With this in mind, the site targets a general readership first. As a result, content is organised so that the most accessible information is presented first, followed by additional content and links to further resources. Terms and concepts follow the same pattern meaning that new vocabulary is introduced paragraph by paragraph.

ResearchClassroomStudent General
Images ????????????????
Explanations????????????????
Downloads????????????????
In-line links????????????
Bibliography????????????
Q&A’s????????
Articles????
Citizenship????

The relevance of content to different types of users

TARGETS FOR 2019

Targets for 2019

We have a set of targets for 2019 to do with adding content. You can get a sense of the range of tasks from the table below:

Targets for 2019
Details
Edit and proof Everything uploaded to date needs a final edit and proof
ImagesUpload fully researched but unfinished content
ArticlesFinal edit and upload three more completed articles about colour
BibliographyAdd in-line citations, footnotes and bibliography
PhotographyEstablish the photography section

Working on the design and functionality of the site is a distraction from developing new content that we hope to overcome during 2019. The chart below shows progress so far towards our targets for the year.

 

Site content: Progress towards 2019 targets

CURRENT FEATURES

A list of current features and links to examples

FeaturesDetailsExamples
Images Library of images in the form of diagrams and slides supported by full-page explanationsExample
ArticlesLibrary of illustrated articles exploring light, colour, vision and how to see moreExample
ReferencesReference library of key terms used across the site including definition, explanation and bullet pointsExample
Q&A’sPop-up general-knowledge Q&A’s with in-text links to the reference libraryExample
In-line linksFunctionality that highlights keywords and links to the reference libraryExample
BibliographyIn-line citations and footnotes are used throughout the site and link to the bibliography.
Free downloadsFunctionality to download images and articles in formats suited to a range of different usesExample
CitizenshipFunctionality to enable and encourage user involvement

Table showing the existing features of lightcolourvision.org

CROWDFUNDING: DETAILS

How our crowdfunding campaign works

Lightcolourvision.org is a project which operates under the auspices of MediaStudies Trust, an incorporated society registered as a charitable trust in New Zealand. The financial management of lightcolourvision.org including all forms of fundraising is the responsibility of the trust.

Our crowd-funding campaign for lightcolourvision.org is intended to encourage collaboration in the project and help fund development through 2019.

The campaign begins on 1st May 2019 and finishes at 12.00pm GMT on the 21st May 2019

A pledge is an amount that a supporter offers to contribute if the crowdfunding campaign is successful.

The campaign will be successful if it reaches or exceeds the funding goal of $2500 by the close date.

If the campaign doesn’t reach its funding goal, then supporters will not be asked to settle their pledges.

If the crowd-funding campaign is a success, then supporters will receive an email offering various ways to transfer the pledged amount.

Two further attempts will be made to collect pledged amounts.

If these efforts are unsuccessful the pledge will be recorded as unpaid, but the amount pledged will be counted towards the success of the campaign.

Any donations made to lightcolourvision.org during the crowdfunding campaign will be counted alongside pledges.

Supporters can only make one pledge to the campaign. If a second pledge is received it will be considered as an amendment of the first.

Please contact Ric and Jules directly or through the website with any questions.

Footnote

Lightcolourvision.org is intended to be a 10-year project. It’s a kind of life work at the point where Ric and Jules’ research interests overlap. Health and everyday circumstances permitting, it will continue to develop. It is assumed that when supporters make pledges and donations to lightcolourvision.org they accept the unforeseeable risks and challenges faced by the project.

PLEDGE NZ$20 OR MORE (£10.50)

RECEIVE: Citizenship
Because you made a real difference!

INCLUDES:
Honorary citizenship (with no obligations).
Regular newsletter containing project updates.
Appreciation and thanks measured in tons.
**

PLEDGE NZ$50 OR MORE (£25.80)

RECEIVE: Citizenship (Honours)
Because you made a big difference!

INCLUDES:
Honorary citizenship (with no obligations).
Regular newsletter containing project updates.
Appreciation and thanks measured in tons.
**

PLEDGE NZ$200 OR MORE (£103.30)

RECEIVE: Citizenship (1st Class Hons)
Because you made a huge difference!

INCLUDES:
Honorary citizenship (with no obligations).
Regular newsletter containing project updates.
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Sense-making

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As living, conscious beings we strive to make sense of the world. There is always more to understand than the small part we see clearly.  The precise course of our lives depends on ensuring that we are critically informed and respond creatively to how things appear.

A STARTING POINT

A simple description of the challenge that all human beings face concerns the correspondence between organism and environment. In purely physical terms the boundary between the two follows the contours of our skin and there is a significant difference between the inside and outside until our lives come to an end.

The relationship between the living organism on the inside and the environment on the outside is mediated by the epidermis, where blood and tissue interface with air. Nerves, embedded in every square inch of the surface of our skin, enable tiny changes in the immediate environment to be sensed. Other nerves within the nose and mouth collect their own sensory impressions. Add to this a proprioceptive awareness of our own movements and sense of balance, then, taken together, these sensations provide an essential avenue to assembling our understanding of both ourselves and the world.

Obviously, there are two other organs evident on the surface of our bodies that vastly expand our relationship with the world outside. They are hearing and vision. Of these two it is vision that provides the principal focus on subsequent pages.

To add vision to the picture outlined so far involves our eyes, optic nerves and brain. All three can be counted as component parts of a single organ, a large part of which is safely embedded within our skulls, but with the eye-balls mounted as high up and as far forward as possible from where they provide a panoramic view of the world.

It may already be clear that this idea of human existence as a transactional relationship grounded in being-in and being-of the world in a purely physical sense is too simplistic. Our lives stretch far beyond the reach of our sensory organs. Our immediate circumstances run out into global networks, allowing us to engage in transactions worldwide. We can climb into machines that whisk us off to distant locations that our bodies alone could never reach. Connect the human mind to a microscope and we can see into the infinitesimally small world of neurons and synapses that power vision and conscious perception. When we do an internet search, or access libraries online, we unlock petabytes of knowledge of ourselves and the world accumulated over centuries.

But, in a very real sense, it is visual perception that provides the key to this array of perspectives on our very human condition. Vision brings our experience of the world into sharp relief and fills every corner with colour.

Light of different wavelengths enters the human eye. The role of our brains is to makes sense of those fleeting patterns.

With the thoughts outlined so far in mind, consider the following three points:

  • Colour sensations are always available to us whether we are aware or pay attention to them or not. Colour is what human beings see in the presence of light.
  • Colour is an artefact of human vision, something that only exists for living things like ourselves.
  • Seeing is a sensation produced by light and takes the form of colour. If human beings and related species were all to disappear overnight, the world would still be full of light but there would be no colour.

In the sections that follow, four closely related terms are introduced that help to build on the ideas introduced so far. They are visual perception, colour vision, the perception of colour and sense-making.

This diagram demonstrates the relationship between wavelength and colour. Nanometres (nm) is a unit of measurement for wavelength.

ATTRIBUTES OF VISUAL PERCEPTION

Attributes of visual perception are the innate abilities and the skills we develop over the course of a lifetime that enable us to make sense of what we see. They are evident in the diverse properties of the world we see around us.

Innate attributes of visual perception associated with the response of the human eye and brain to light include:

  • Colour perception: The ability to see colour in the presence of light including all the greys between black and white.
  • Visual attention: The ability to focus on important visual information and filter out the rest.
  • Sensory processing: Accurate registration, interpretation and coordination of visual information alongside other forms of sensory stimulation.
  • Visual discrimination: The ability to recognise differences or similarities between objects based on size, colour, shape etc.
  • Spatial relationships: The ability to understand the relationships of objects, particularly their position, distance, and direction of movement relative to an observer.
  • Stereo vision: The ability to see the world in three dimensions.
  • Figure-ground: The ability to locate something and treat everything else as a background.
  • Form constancy: The ability to know that a form or shape is the same, even if it becomes larger, smaller or its orientation changes.
  • Visual closure: The ability to recognise a form or object when part of it is hidden or missing.
  • Visual memory: The ability to recall the outline and details of a view or object.
  • Visual sequential memory: The ability to recall a sequence of experiences in the correct order.

Our visual skills are remarkable but easy tricked. The two vertical bands of green are the same colour but appear to be different. Close inspection of the diagram reveals why!

COLOUR VISION

In terms of human experience, colour vision is the ability to distinguish objects according to the wavelengths and intensities of light they absorb, emit, reflect or transmit etc. The human eye and brain together translate light into colour.

  • Colour vision allows a human observer to distinguish objects by their colour.
  • Colours can be measured and quantified, but an observer’s perception of colour is first and foremost a subjective experience whereby the visual system responds to stimuli produced when incoming light reacts with chemicals inside the photosensitive rod and cone cells of the retina at the back of the eyeball.
  • In normal conditions, light is rarely of a single wavelength, so an observer is often exposed to a range of wavelengths in one area of the spectrum or a mixture of wavelengths from different areas of the spectrum.
  • In everyday life, colour vision includes chromatic and achromatic content. This means that an observer can distinguish between stimuli that appear coloured (chromatic) and others that appear to be without colour (achromatic) and so appear black, grey or white.
  • Different people may see the same object or light source in different ways. Factors that affect what we see include: where we are standing relative to an object, differences in eyesight (eg. colour blindness), previous experiences, expectations or interests.

A person with normal vision will be able to distinguish a numeral in the pattern of dots shown above. A common form of colour blindness makes it difficult to distinguish between these greenish and redish hues. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishihara_test)

PERCEIVED COLOUR

The perceived colour of an object, surface or area within the field of vision results from colour perception – an attribute of visual perception. First and foremost, perceived colour refers to what an observer sees in any given situation and so is a subjective experience.

  • It is the human ability to perceive and distinguish between colours that provides an important basis for the way that we sense and make sense of the world.
  • A distinction can be made between the physical properties of things in the world around us and how they appear to a human observer. So a small rock in a garden can be described in terms of physical properties but these don’t explain why, in the same situation,  a child sees a cat moving in the shadows.
  • When thinking about perceived colour, a distinction can be made between:
    • The properties of light.
    • The properties of objects.
    • What an observer perceives as a result of the attributes of visual perception.

Looking steadily at strong colours confuses the light sensitive cells in our eyes. The cells don’t recover immediately when we look away. Stare at the white square in the diagram without blinking for at least 15 seconds. Now close your eyes. Can you name the colours in the after-image?

  • Perceived colour can be described by chromatic colour names such as pink, orange, brown, green, blue, purple, etc., or by achromatic colour names such as black, grey and white etc. Colour names can be qualified by adjectives such as dark, dim, light, bright etc.
  • Perceived colours consist of any combination of chromatic and achromatic content.
  • Perceived colour depends on the spectral distribution of a colour stimulus – the range and mixture of wavelengths and intensities of light that enter the eye.
  • Perceived colour depends on factors such as the size, shape and structure of all the objects in view, the composition and texture of their surfaces, their position and orientation in relation to one another, their location within the field of view of an observer and the direction of incident light.
  • Colour perception can be affected by the state of adaptation of an observer’s visual system. An example of this is when the photosensitive cells embedded in the retina become fatigued from long exposure to a strong colour and then produce an afterimage when we look away.
  • Perceived colour is influenced by factors such as an observer’s expectations, priorities, current activities, recollections and previous experience.
  • Perceived colour is defined in the International Lighting Vocabulary of the CIE (The International Commission on Illumination) as a characteristic of visual perception that can be described by attributes of hue, brightness (or lightness) and colourfulness (saturation or chroma) (CIE, 2011, 17-198).

SENSE MAKING

An important factor when considering visual perception is that as light enters our eyes it does not have any properties that allow it to carry information about the world of objects and the other things, we so easily recognise around us. The only type of information carried by light that our eyes can register is related to properties such as wavelength, frequency and intensity. Therefore, the sense-making process gathers nothing more from photosensitive cells in the retina other than flickering patterns of light.

But if this is the case then how do we make sense of the world? Let’s look at the basics of sense-making in more detail!

Most people are familiar with the idea that colours do not have an external objective existence. This understanding has a grounding in physics. Light is composed of energy at different wavelengths and our eyes respond to one small band of those wavelengths within the electromagnetic spectrum. Anatomical studies have in turn revealed the existence and function of the light receptors in the retina of our eyes that respond to light.

So, there is no red out there in the world. What we call red is our visual system’s interpretation of what we are looking at. Our visual system constructs the experience of red from the data provided by our eyes. Despite all this, when I see a car, the fact that it is red is an indisputably accurate description of my observation. Somehow the redness of the car is a simple fact.

Neuroscience is currently trying to explain how this happens. What we know is that our visual system favours fast reaction times and rapid interpretation and there is nothing to be gained from the brain revealing its inner workings in the course of everyday experience. To the contrary, it specialises in providing us with just the information we need and in precisely the form we need it. We receive no information about how our eyes and brain gather or process information. The car just looks red and if we see a tiger then hopefully there is still time to run away as fast as we can!

A naïve view of sense-making

A lack of understanding of the act of seeing in favour of taking our sensory experience for granted is the basis of naïve realism. From this perspective, perception simply produces a mirror of the world around us, though our attention may swing inward at a moment’s notice if we feel pain or have a disturbing thought. But what we see around us is not just an internal reflection of an external reality!

Animal or bird? A healthy outlook involves skepticism about every we see. When it comes to perception, assumptions, bias, previous experience, expectations and prejudice can all play their part in how things appear.  The painting is by Tim O-Brian and was originally published in Nautilus Magazine.

A BOTTOM-UP VIEW OF SENSE-MAKING

Investigations over the last two centuries have revealed a lot about sense-making. So let’s consider a bottom-up perspective first, and the idea that what an observer sees and understands about the world starts as light enters the eyes and ends with conscious perception.

The core idea is that light, in the form of waves (sometimes described as particles called photons) bounce off things in front of us and enter our eyes through the pupil. The lens then focuses light on the retina at the back of the eye-ball where it forms an image. The retina, which contains photosensitive cells, responds by producing chemical and then electrical signals. The signals go through further processing by other types of neurons including ganglion and bipolar cells. The output is then dispatched along the optic nerve towards the visual cortex and related areas of the brain.

This view acknowledges research into the visual system that reveals connections going towards the eye from the brain and controlling things like eye movement, vergence (cross-eyes when looking at objects close-up), focus and blinking but points out that there are vastly greater numbers of connections going towards the brain.

From this perspective, sense-making is generally understood to develop stage by stage as signals are transmitted through the visual system. Different facets of perceptions of a recognisable world including colour, shape, depth, stereo vision and movement are all constructed progressively en-route, enabling us to compose pictures which integrate local details and global features of a scene into a comprehensible view of the world.

Light enters the eye, is focused by the lens and forms an image on the surface of the retina. The diagram shows a detail of the retina and the various kinds of neurons involved in translating this image into signals ready to be sent off along the optic nerve to the visual cortex within the brain. The table below identifies the different cell types.

Type of neuronBrief description
1Rod cellsRods are light sensitive photo-receptor cells that sense the different wavelengths of light focused on the retina. Rods function in lower light than cone cells. Rod cells are almost entirely responsible for night vision but play almost no part in colour vision. Notice that both rod and cone cells are not on the surface of the retina where the image forms. They are attached instead to the pigment epithelium which forms the boundary between the retina and the eyeball.
2Cone cellsCones are light sensitive photo-receptor cells that respond to the wavelength and intensity of light striking each microscopic point on the retina. They are responsible for colour vision. Cone cells function best in relatively bright light, as opposed to rod cells, which work better in dim light.
3Pigmented  epitheliumPigment epithelium is a layer of cells at the boundary between the retina and the eyeball. These cells nourish the different types of neurons within the retina. The pigment epithelium is attached to the underlying choroid that forms the inner surface of the eyeball on one side and to rods and cones on the other.
4Horizontal cells

 

Horizontal cells help to integrate and regulate information received from photo-receptor cells, cleaning up and globally adjusting signals as they pass through bipolar cells towards the regions containing ganglion cells.
5Bipolar cellsBipolar cells act, directly or indirectly, as conduits through which to transmit signals from photo-receptors (rods and cones) to ganglion cells.
6
Amacrine cellsAmacrine cells interact with bipolar cells and/or ganglion cells. They monitor and augment the stream of data through bipolar cells and also control and refine the response of ganglion cells and their sub-types.
7Ganglion cellsGanglion cells collect and process all the visual information gathered directly or indirectly from the forty-something types of rod, cone, bipolar, horizontal and amacrine cells and, once finished, transmit it towards higher visual centres via the optic nerve.
8Optic nerveThe optic nerve is the cable–like grouping of nerve fibres formed from the axons of ganglion cells that transmit visual information towards the lateral geniculate nucleus and then onward towards the visual cortex. The optic nerve begins at the optic disk, a point on the retina often called the blind spot.

A TOP-DOWN VIEW OF SENSE-MAKING

Now let’s consider a top-down view of the same sense-making process. This suggests that the chemical and electrical processes resulting from light stimulating the eyes occur simultaneously with other types of neurological activity within the brain. From this perspective, conscious perceptions are as much to do with brain activity as they are to do with raw information gathered by the eyes.

An important consideration here is that in view of the complex of eye-brain connections mentioned above, it is a mistake to think of our eyeballs as a separate organ or functioning independently from the rest of the visual system. Eye-balls are literally extensions of the brain, mounted remotely from the core of the visual system, but directly connected by great ribbons of neurons linking the retina at one end and the visual cortex at the other.

This leads to the notion that perception and sense-making depend not only on information derived from light entering our eyes but also from a complex interplay of processes that originate in our brains. In this case, perception is not just a question of what we see with our eyes but the fact that the brain has its own ideas about what is going on. In this sense, different kinds of perception are like different kinds of hypothesizing.

The implications are that the activities of the visual system are as much about mental processes at higher levels as about raw visual information coming up the optic nerve. This comes down to the idea that the visual system is trying to imagine what is out there and what is going on. Depending on circumstances, out there might mean in the distance, inside my room, inside my shoe or inside my stomach!

A top-down view, therefore, involves predictions about what is happening in the world being generated at the top end of the visual system whilst it also tries to make sense of what is causing sensory data at the bottom end. It is a meeting of many types of processing out of which visual experience is constructed. What we see is the result of the visual system’s best guess about what is causing sensory data and its predictions about what will happen next.

If you have 17 minutes to spare then please watch Anit Seth, a neuroscientist at University of Sussex in the UK, present a TED talk that explores conscious experience – our experience of the world around us and of ourselves within it.

AN INTEGRATED VIEW OF SENSE-MAKING

If the bottom-up and top-down perspectives are combined a third option emerges that gets away from an overly physiological or hierarchical ordering of the visual system and opens ways of thinking about sense-making grounded in our bodies as they actively live, learn and act in the world.

It is clear, for example, that during early childhood we begin to become familiar with our surroundings, and as that process develops we become more efficient at making sense of it. As time goes on, it involves less effort to recognise features and so the more quickly we apply that familiarity next time around.

How we see objects and extract meaning from a scene may depend on what we are doing with the things before us and whether we are carrying out a familiar task. In another case, faced with something unfamiliar, we may scan an array of barely recognisable objects and ask ourselves questions about what things are and whether they relate to the task at hand. Riding a bicycle might provide a good example in the first case whilst lifting the bonnet of a car for the first time to check the oil could apply in the second.

If we take all this one step further, then sense-making depends heavily on imagining the world we see. Imagination, anticipation, inference and hallucination are all part and parcel of trying to see things. We can’t do the act of seeing without imagining. As a result, we usually get it right, but sometimes we do get it wrong.

Matching mental assumptions about the world with the information simultaneously processed by the retina is clearly something that has evolved over millions of years. Given the benefits of trial and error over that time, we can be reasonably confident that the endurance of our species indicates that the match between the two is often spot on.

It is particularly comforting to see how quickly mistakes like seeing those cats that turn out to be rocks are rectified. At the other end of the scale when paranoia, delusions, fear, conspiracy theories or over-active imaginations prevail, it reflects the degree to which the match can slip out of kilter even for a reasonably well-adjusted personality.

We are constantly checking our immediate needs, our hopes and imaginations against information gathered by the retina. But some people clearly have problems accurately perceiving the world around them. This does not necessarily involve mistaking objects but can take place as moods and emotions intertwine with our objectively perceived view of the world.

Take for example the effect of something as simple as a pain-killer for a headache, a hot drink after a tiresome day, or a substantial meal when physically overtired. The rhythms and shifts that affect every organ in our body impacts on how we see the world.

Then there are situations where we close our eyes whilst listening to music or begin an imaginative activity. By suppressing the generation of information from the eyes we can stimulate a creative process still packed with images that are quite apart from the ordinary features of everyday affairs.

These perspectives fit with contemporary descriptions of the visual system that reject a simple ordering of different components, of processing steps and the idea of narrow areas of specialisation within and around the visual cortex. They suggest instead the idea of myriads of links and relays between neurons throughout the visual system interconnecting the diverse dimensions of what we experience directly as conscious perceptions. This approach recognises the brain’s role as being fluid and adaptable to specific circumstances with a dynamic and synergistic role in constructing our visual experience as a perceptual whole. This, in turn, contributes to what it means to be a conscious living member of humanity embedded in ecosystems which have a 3.8-billion-year history but at the same time needing to accurately resolve whether it is safe to cross the road.

WHO’S EYES ARE THESE ANYWAY?

Then finally, before finishing this section there is the question of self-perception! Who exactly is the person that seemingly lives behind my eyes? Who is it that lives behind any other pairs of eyes I look at during the day? I can talk about myself. I can say that behind each pair of eyes is a separate self. But exactly what are these selves that do the sense-making?

One point of view within contemporary philosophy suggests that there is always someone having the experience – someone consciously experiencing themselves as directed toward the world, as a self in the act of attending, knowing, desiring, willing, and acting. This view suggests that we have an integrated inner-image of ourselves that is firmly anchored in our feelings, bodily sensations and perceptions, that enable the experience of a point of view. This approach recognizes however that there is no little person running things inside my head. (Metzinger, 2010, pp. 7-8)

The problem of identifying a self was recognized by another philosopher, David Hume, more than two hundred and fifty years ago in his book A Treatise of Human Nature:

“When I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception”. (Hume, 2015, p. 254)

The idea of self, along with that of being a subject who can, for example, see objects, is not straightforward and is woven into the very fabric of philosophical thinking.

So the connections between sense-maker and sense-making will  be come up again in subsequent articles. But more groundwork needs to be put in place first. So please read the next article in the series which is entitled The Visual Pathway.

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Light and the Preconditions for Visual Perception

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“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

William Blake, poet, painter, print-maker (1757–1827), The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

Light

Light is everywhere. Look around. If you can see something, then it is being illuminated by one or more light sources – sunlight, moonlight, firelight, street-light, starlight, a firefly.

Light is primordial, it dates from the beginning of time, and is ubiquitous – it saturates the universe.

Light is primitive, curling yellow and red in prehistoric hearths, flashing and booming in the dead of night, deadly in the mid-day sun.

Light cuts through the darkness and through the shadows in our lives, drawing attention to things that would otherwise be hidden.

Light wages war upon us, polluting, burning and blinding. But, along with light comes illumination – insight, awe, wonder.

When all else is stripped away, light is pure energy.

Talking about seeing the light means to understand something more clearly or in new ways. As the veil of darkness lifts, personal realms are revealed – the mind’s eye, imagination, hallucinations and penetrating revelations.

If we want to see more, we turn up the light, point the torch more directly or concentrate our thoughts.

Film studios and theatres are full of banks of lights to make sure we see the action as intended. Shopping malls are full of spotlights to make sure we don’t miss any details of the latest display. There is an illuminated stage in our minds where flashes of creativity spark new ways of seeing and acting. As searing light sweeps away the old, previously unimagined possibilities dance before us.

If we can’t see things through direct observation, then we insert equipment into our line of sight. Microscopes, telescopes, spectroscopes and oscilloscopes are all technologies of choice to enable invisible stuff to materialize before our eyes. Gamma waves, microwaves and radio waves, for example, are all types of light that are outside the visible part of the spectrum but can be shifted to the range of wavelengths our eyes are best suited with the right piece of kit. Meanwhile, graphic visualizations can make data visible, MRI scanners create a kind of topology of the human body and 3D printers can create artefacts from non-visual information.

To get a grip of contemporary perspectives on light, and their connection to colour, vision and ways of seeing, we are going to take a 13.8-billion-year step backwards to the beginning of the Universe. Our destination is a time shortly after the Big Bang. It involves a trip into the scientific worlds of cosmology and evolutionary biology to come to terms with core questions related to the fact that we have eyes.

In case you are already confused, cosmology is a branch of astronomy that studies the origin of the Universe, and particularly the way it has unfolded over time. Evolutionary biology studies the processes evident in nature (natural selection, common descent and speciation) that account for the diversity of life on Earth.

The underlying rationale for the route we will follow is that there is nothing random about the fact that eyes have evolved on several separate occasions in different species, that we see the world around us with such clarity, or that sight is so central to how we learn about and understand ourselves and the world. 1 There are direct connections between the earliest history of the Universe, the formation of the first stars, the galaxies they exist within and the fact that almost all insects and animals have little light-sensitive balls stuck on the front of their faces. We will pass important sites on the road that can be thought of as preconditions for visual perception. So look out for the first appearance of light, the emergence of space-time and it’s geometry, the stability of the cosmos over time, material forms and embodied beings, biological life and photosynthesis, and finally, the emergence of eyes and human cognition.

let’s begin with a photograph of a somewhat self-satisfied looking gentleman smoking a pipe and directing his nicotine filled gaze into the machine that towers over him.2 He seems to want us to appreciate that he is making unparalleled discoveries about the night sky that will lead to brand new fields of scientific inquiry and a plethora of other remarkable discoveries. We now know that in less than a century his work will transform our understanding of the cosmos and play a critical role in scientific revolutions set to transform our lives. What is not clear from this portrait is whether he knew that as we find ways to sense photons of light arriving from ever more distant reaches of space and time, (and decode them to reveal their origins and some of the details of their travels), a parallel process enables us to reconfigure the scope of human vision, the reach of our imagination and cast new light on what it means to be a human observer.

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Edwin Hubble stands by the 48-inch telescope at Palomar Observatory, San Diego County, California.
(Carnegie Institution of Washington)

The big bang

In the photograph of Edwin Hubble introduced above, we see a scientist peer into the eyepiece of one of a new generation of powerful optical telescopes. What he saw was a total revelation! During his research at the Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories, he made measurements and perceived details in the night sky not imagined by previous generations. Relying solely on evidence drawn from faint smudges of light, he was able to make unanticipated deductions about the scale and origins of the Universe.

The Big Bang is a scientific theory arising from measurements showing that the Universe is much bigger than had previously been realized, and is still expanding. Hubble was the first to make such observations and to publish his calculations (1929). Hubble and his contemporaries worked out that there are myriad galaxies located beyond the boundaries of our own, the Milky Way. Their results also showed that regardless of which direction we look in, that clusters of galaxies are moving away from us, and the ones that are farthest away are moving the fastest.


A timeline of the Universe. The far left shows the Big Bang followed by a period of “inflation” that caused exponential growth in the scale of the Universe. The afterglow of the Big Bang, the Cosmic Microwave Background, began to be emitted about 400,000 years later. (Image: NASA / WMAP Science Team)

The remarkable thing that Hubble’s observations demonstrated was that unlike releasing a box of birds in an open field, enabling them to fly off through space towards the boundaries of the field, it was space itself and so the field that was expanding. Taking this analogy a little further, when Hubble made his observations, every bird (cluster of galaxies) appeared to have travelled a considerable distance from their point of origin, but it wasn’t so much that the birds were all flying away, it was the scale of the field itself that was expanding. As a result, we can imagine that even if each bird (or cluster of galaxies) where to be glued in position at some moment, the distance between them would continue to increase, not because they were going anywhere but because the volume of the field itself is exploding in size. This way in which the Universe was observed to be expanding came to be known as the Hubble Constant.

Of course, the Universe is not a field of birds among other grassy paddocks as suggested by the analogy above. Quite to the contrary, the Universe encompasses everything in existence, from the smallest sub-atomic particle to the sum-total of all galaxies everywhere and everything else besides.

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This is the Abell Galaxy cluster. It is believed to consist of four thousand distinct galaxies, all bound together by gravity. It is 2.2 billion light years from planet Earth.

The Universe: past and future

What will happen over time if galaxy clusters, some of the biggest structures we know of, are drifting away from one another as the size and geometry of space and time change in scale, leaving more and more empty spans in between? The answer seems to be that in the distant future they will eventually be so far away from one another and receding at such a speed, that their light will fade to nothing as they pass out of reach forever. From then on, other than the relatively small galaxy cluster around our own Milky Way, there will be nothing out there but an impenetrable empty void.

If that bleak picture lies in the future, what can we deduce about the past? What has brought us folk on planet Earth to this point in the history of the Universe? Hubble realized that if the rate at which the Universe is expanding is a constant, then not only is it constantly getting bigger as time goes on but looking back at its history, in the past, it must have been smaller than it is now.

Very slowly, let the air out of a party balloon at a constant speed and the speed at which it shrinks will also be constant. If we run the sequence of events that account for the evolution of the Universe in reverse, at a certain point, 13.82 billion years ago, everything becomes so small it vanishes entirely. That vanishing point is the location of the Big Bang.

Big Bang! It’s a silly name, because at the moment the Universe first appears, there is no space, no time and no-one to hear anything. But, be that as it may, the Big Bang theory suggests that because the total mass of everything that constitutes the Universe as we know it now was at one point in the past compressed into an infinitesimally small nothingness, that it was also off-the-scale hot.

A parallel example of how things that are compressed become hot is the way a bicycle pump heats up at the point where you force air into a tyre. Pressure doesn’t directly cause things to heat up, but compressing the same amount of gas into a smaller space does. The amount of heat in the gas remains constant, however, in a smaller volume, that heat is more concentrated, thus raising the temperature.

In the case of the Big Bang, heat is usually attributed not to pressure but to the wavelength of photons of light. As the Big Bang took place and space was in the first instant of materializing, there was only room for the very shortest wavelengths imaginable, at the top end of the electromagnetic spectrum where gamma rays are emitted. Gamma rays not only have the shortest of wavelengths, but they also transport the most energy. The more energy the greater the heat. The gamma radiation we are talking about here had the shortest of all possible wavelengths and harboured the sum of energy that would ever exist anywhere, ever. This was not going to just be a bit of a pop, it truly would be a tremendous boom.

The Big Bang is the point from which everything in this article and the Universe itself unfolds. In an unimaginable brief amount of time, the infinitesimally small space between any two imaginary points inflated to 99.7 trillion kilometres, causing a previously non-existent potential to actualize as a primordial plasma soup. As it decompressed, it began to cool, dropping to about a billion degrees kelvin after the first few minutes. After this initial fraction of time, a slower expansion and cooling process continued and in accordance with a pattern that seems to conform to the Hubble Constant.

For those interested in such things, the unit of measurement for the Hubble Constant is estimated to be around 70.00 km per second per mega-parsec. A mega-parsec meanwhile is a million parsecs and as there are about 3.3 light-years to a parsec, a mega-parsec is, well, quite a distance.

It’s impossible to visualize the matter-radiation plasma soup immediately after the Big Bang because even if we leave out its unimaginable explosive force, it’s defining features, including structure, density and temperature, were smoothly and indistinguishably distributed in all directions to infinity. As a result, the preconditions for the usual way human beings think of things, in terms of specific locations in space and time and with a point of view on distinctive surroundings didn’t yet exist. Everything was identical everywhere.

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The Holmdel Horn Antenna was constructed in 1959 as a communications satellite but discovered radiation from the Cosmic Microwave Background. (NASA / Public domain)

Cosmic Microwave Background

With the overall scenario in place, it is time to talk about light!

Around 400,000 years after the Big Bang, things began to happen that are still evident today and are of relevance to the central concerns of this article. Using our latest technologies, such as the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite, we have been able to study the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), a relic of the oldest known electromagnetic radiation in the universe. It began to be emitted as the chemistry of the opaque plasma soup, mentioned in the previous section, began to alter. This happening, in which photons of light begin to be distinguishable within the preceding opaque plasma occurred as the first forms of matter condensed sufficiently to produce discrete atoms of hydrogen and helium. It heralded an increasingly transparent future because the new atomic structures had empty spaces between them through which photons of light could squeeze. That process of the decoupling of matter and energy continued for 600,000 years. Images of the CMB dating from that epoch provide evidence of the first visible signs of the Universe we inhabit today.

The Cosmic Microwave Background is the afterglow of Big Bang. This image shows tiny temperature fluctuations. Red regions are warmer and blue regions are colder by about 0.0002 degrees. The average overall temperature today is 2.725 Kelvin degrees above absolute zero. (http://wmap.gsfc.nasa.gov/media/101080)

The Cosmic Microwave Background is radiation left over from the Big Bang and, as the word microwave reveals, it is electromagnetic radiation in the microwave part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Microwaves have a peak wavelength of 1.9mm. This is, however, what we see of the CMB today. The gamma waves emitted at the start have been stretched by the continuing expansion of the universe over time.

The Cosmic Microwave Background was discovered by accident in 1965 by researchers building a new type of radio telescope. The telescope looked like a huge horn and was intended to be used as a satellite communications antenna. But things weren’t going well because the scientists were puzzled by the constant hiss of noise it produced. They soon realized the noise came uniformly from all over the sky. Physicists, who had first predicted the existence of the Cosmic Microwave Background in 1948, then realized the static was what they had been looking for.

It took a further 50 years (2009-2013) before Plank and its sister satellites revealed that whilst being smooth and uniform in every other way, at a sufficiently high resolution, images of the CMB contain very small fluctuations in temperature. These fluctuations represent tiny irregularities that would, as the Universe evolved further, precipitate the formation of ever more complex forms of matter and lead to the evolution of galaxies, their stars, and all the other structure we see around us today.

It’s important to be clear about how we can possibly observe evidence of CMB radiation if it was emitted so soon after the Big Bang.

Microwaves are a type of electromagnetic radiation (EM radiation), which we often simply call light. The visible light we humans see is different from microwaves, ultra-violet light, x-rays, gamma rays and radio waves in that they are all invisible to the human eye. The only difference between visible light and the other types is that they belong to different bands of wavelengths that we divide EM radiation into. All forms of EM radiation fall somewhere on the electromagnetic spectrum.

Electromagnetic spectrum

Since all forms of light (EM radiation) travel at a speed of just under 300,000 km per second (the speed of light) through empty space, there is a delay between the moment light is emitted and its arrival at distant destinations. For example, the delay between radiation emitted by the Sun arriving at our home planet is eight minutes. As distances get bigger the time delay gets longer and eventually must be measured in light-years – the distance light travels in a year. The delay between transmission and reception for light travelling across our local cluster of galaxies is 9.8 million light-years. On a bigger scale, there are three million galaxies within a billion light-years of our solar system. This means that as light arrives we see things as they were all that time ago.  The light from the CMB has travelled further than any other, before being picked up by equipment like the Plank satellite – telescopes designed to pick out the CMB from all the other types of EM radiation that fill the sky. When astronomers observe the CMB they see it as it was more than 13 billion light-years ago.

The CMB appears to be the same distance away in every direction. The implications of this are that we can think of ourselves as having a viewpoint on the Universe from which the CMB forms a sphere around us. But its not that it’s all laid out just for us. The fact is, as far as we know, whatever the viewpoint within the known Universe, its so huge that the CMB would always appear to form an identical sphere. This is hard to visualize as is the fact that it has now cooled from its original superheated state to just a couple of degrees above absolute zero (minus 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 273.15 degrees Celsius).

The extraordinary thing about all this is that planet Earth, an unremarkable ball of matter in an equally unremarkable corner of the Milky Way has developed blobs of biological material that are able not only to feely-crawly themselves about the ground but can sense forces that have shaped everything that has ever existed, anywhere, since the beginnings of time. Life on planet earth is truly insignificant, yet human eyes and human minds are tuned to the cosmos and to processes that shape the largest objects imaginable and at the same time account for the sub-atomic particles that provide their foundations.

Theatre, Stage, Actors and Eyes

It is time to break down the ground covered so far into a series of prerequisites for and interconnections between the cosmological, biological and sentient dimensions of our lives in ways that help to place visual perception in context.

The building blocks introduced already mark out large-scale connections between our contemporary everyday experience and the most distant reaches of space and time. To conceive of this sense of connection from the largest to the smallest scales has required massive feats of imagination and has drawn on the genius of some of the world’s greatest minds including familiar names such as Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawkin among many others.  But today, appreciation of the structural interconnections between the Big Bang and the world as we see around us is in evidence wherever concepts such as universe, cosmos, evolution, and emergence are found. Whilst each one of these has already been used in previous sections, let’s summarise each in turn as we get down to the business at hand.

The Universe includes the whole of space and all forms of energy and matter. In more descriptive terms we can talk about the totality of existence, which is to say everything that exists now, plus everything that has existed or will exist. The inclusion of thoughts, emotions, feelings and physical sensations add a human sense of scale.

The term cosmos treats the Universe as complex but orderly inter-related systems. It implies the accumulation and variation of generative and developmental changes over time in the composition and assembly of radiation, matter and life, including humankind. What Neo-Darwinism does for the biological evolution of plants and animals and their intimate interconnections, cosmic evolution does for larger categories and entities. Cosmic evolution provides a continuous framework within which to consider the systemic properties and sequential relationships between the describable properties of the universe.

Cosmic evolution might be broken down into sub-divisions such as the following:

  • Evolution of primal energy into elementary particles and atoms
  • Evolution of those atoms into galaxies and stars
  • Evolution of stars into heavy elements
  • Evolution of those elements into the molecular building blocks of life
  • Evolution of those molecules into life itself
  • Evolution of advanced life forms into sentience
  • Evolution of intelligent life into cultured and technological civilizations.3

To provide a sketch suited to present purposes it is sufficient to simplify the overall span of these divisions into just three eras:

The era of matter begins with the emergence of space-time, as discussed above. It encompasses the period during which elementary forms of matter became evident and includes their progressive differentiation and chemistry. This era is inclusive of the appearance of the first stars and of all the properties of the Universe we see and study in astronomy and the other physical sciences.

By comparison, the era of life is a more recent phenomenon. Life, as we know it, is very localised but forms an overlay of properties both dependent on and distinct from matter. Life has emerged, flourished and evolved the ability to entirely reshape and add novel properties to its material origins.

What might be called the era of sentience, includes but is not limited to our very anthropocentric sense of things. It emerged only recently compared to the overall duration of the eras it overlays. The speed and degree to which sentience has gained sway over both the material world and life accounts for the introduction of a new geological term, the Anthropocene. It is from this location and with the aid of its emergent properties that we trace our cosmic heritage – its origins, chains and sequences of events, and a virtual blueprint that maps our survival over time.

In what may seem to be an unreasonably ambitious task, let’s try to treat the notion of life to the same scrutiny.

Life is in addition to the ways matter differentiates itself, it is energetic, material and chemical but has properties that cannot be accounted for in those terms alone. Life, in this sense, is a process internal to matter, not a force or a property applied from outside in the way strings are used to manipulate a puppet. Life is then not a vital force but rather a supplementary property inherent to matter.

Life differentiates itself from nature from within, a dynamic self-containment functioning across a porous boundary. It feeds upon and feeds back into its surrounding. It folds materials and their chemistry into itself, whilst unforeseen properties emerge that it uses to continue the process, folding within folds. Life in this sense can be understood as parasitic on matter as it draws from its chemistry the forces and information it needs to reproduce the impetus to persist, so exist. Living things are all variations of life, each one uniquely different from another and in every case able to adapt to or re-adapt its material conditions, regenerating itself from within before its wilfulness is exhausted. The common impetus all its forms carry is that of materiality itself, the capacity to extend the extant, to reach out and recreate itself in new and unforeseen forms.

Sentience supplements life and inorganic matter just as matter supplements space-time. But running in the other direction, space-time is meaningless without matter to fill it. So equally, space-time, the inorganic and life are all meaningless without sentience. So with sentience comes yet another supplement, meaning itself.

Now let’s put this framework into effect.

It helps if we think of human life as a play. Here we are, living out our lives and getting on with things as best we can. Then there is the stage on which we find ourselves – the natural world and our ecological niches within it. Housing all that is the theatre.

Electromagnetic radiation preceded the formation of the first stars. What we call the Cosmic Microwave Background was the first manifestation of light and the first evidence we have of its earliest workings. For this reason, light is enmeshed into those laws of physics that help us account for the consistent forms and properties of the heavens across all space and time.

The fact that photons of light began to escape the preceding torrid, isotropic mass of super-dense plasma and traverse the empty spaces between emerging atomic structures accounts for the fabric of space-time. Both space and time are the fundamental prerequisites for a material Universe. All forms of matter, including every living thing, must have geometric coordinates and be capable of negotiating trajectories between things if they are to exist, and this is exactly what space-time provides. Space-time is the dynamic theatre that determines the physical and temporal dimensions of the stage on which we find ourselves and thus the locations from which we participate in the play into which our lives are woven. Each of us is in that sense an actor, swept forwards by the tides of time, caught in the action as things emerge, evolve, change and become different.

It would be billions of years after space-time emerged that sentient creatures evolved on planet Earth able to reflect upon their place in this matrix and trace its history back over aeons. But eventually, generations including our own, can see and consciously appreciate that our very existence is predicated upon conditions that began to emerge in the earliest phases of the evolution of the Universe. How remarkable that we can describe ourselves in these terms!

Another crucial detail, if we are to properly account for ourselves as sentient, concerns our bodies and their existence among other things. In other words, what are the preconditions for the embodied existence of anything?  As we extrapolate the inter-connections between light and vision, we need to keep in mind this very material fabric of our existence! To grasp this, we must target the physical matter that everything from our own diminutive skeletons to the celestial bodies above our heads is constructed from.

All of the material mass of matter in the universe emerged along with the massless energy of the Cosmic Microwave Background. CMB radiation was emitted as atoms of hydrogen and helium formed. Initially, these were the only forms of matter and even today, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe.  Because of their mass, hydrogen atoms began to clump together under the effect of their own gravitational attraction forming sheets, walls and filaments, separated by immense voids, creating the vast structures sometimes called the cosmic web.

As ever-larger quantities of hydrogen were drawn together, gravitational attraction increased, accelerating great clouds into every smaller and hotter regions until the first stars and galaxies were born. Stars are balls of burning matter undergoing nuclear fusion within their cores and forcing atomic nuclei to fuse and produce new, heavier elements. During the fusion of two hydrogen nuclei to form helium, for example, a little less than one percent of their mass is emitted as energy.  This process, which continues today, is the source of all the light that overlays the CMB. Within our own solar system, it is this same process of fusing hydrogen nuclei that releases the radiant energy that bathes our world in light every day.

The Periodic Table. Ninety-four elements occur naturally and combine to produce the world around us. The lightest by atomic weight is hydrogen and the heaviest is plutonium. Credit: Adapted from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Periodic_table_large.svg

Whilst the first stars were composed solely of hydrogen and helium, the rest of the elements found in nature are the result of nuclear fusion within later generations of stars and from catastrophic stellar explosions known as supernovae. The most common elements, like carbon and nitrogen, are created in the cores of all stars as they age, the ageing of larger stars produces heavier elements such as iron but it is supernovae that produce the remainder of naturally occurring elements seen in the Periodic Table.

During the greater part of their lives, gravity pulls the contents of stars together whilst fusion pushes them apart. The two balance each other perfectly until fusion stops. When stars over a certain size run out of fuel it causes the outer layers to explode and the core to implode producing a core-collapse supernova. It takes about a quarter of a second for the entire core of a sun to collapse in on itself in this way. The massive increase in pressure in the extreme conditions of this type of supernova adds new and even heavier elements to the list – cobalt (Cb) to plutonium (Pm). As well as immediately producing massive pulses of light that can outshine a whole galaxy in an instant, their remnants spread far and wide to seed the formation of new generations of stars.

Without preceding generations of stars and supernovae, planet Earth would be a very different place and life as we know it would not be possible. Without all the naturally occurring elements of the Periodic Table, there would be no rocky spheres like our own, only gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn – no seas, no mountains, no solid core, and no bodies. We need all the elements within our atmosphere to breathe. We need carbon to build bones. Our blood has iron in its haemoglobin which carries oxygen to every single cell. Nitrogen enriches the soil and is a vital component of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll, in turn, is the compound by which plants use the energy provided by sunlight to produce sugars from water and carbon dioxide (photosynthesis). Nitrogen is also a major component of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, and without them, plants and bodies wither and die.

To fully appreciate the materiality of our bodies we must remember that the idea we are stardust is not just a poetic metaphor. The entirety of our solar system is composed of material from the cosmic web and past generations of stars. Every atom in our human frames has an extra-terrestrial origin. And when people muse about whether there are aliens out there in space, they forget that our bodies are where the real aliens are hiding. Its just that the aliens are the building blocks of every molecule and compound from which each of our organs and sinews are constructed. But whilst the matter that forms the bodies we live in is extra-terrestrial in origin, there is, as yet, no compelling evidence that life itself originated elsewhere.

Bodies, beings, organisms, entities, and multicellular life-forms, these are some of the names we give to the living creatures we share our bio-physiology with. Every plant and animal is distinguished by an individual material existence bounded by birth at one end and death at the other. This is life as we know it, and every instance represents another extension and elaboration of matter and energy. All the different things living organisms do with light account for the sheer abundant volume of our shared biosphere, its spread, diversity and evolution. We must look once again to light to account for the animation of matter, the emergence of life and for our entire biosphere. It is photosynthesis that has been at the heart of that interface for the last 4.6 billion years.

Life has been shaped and driven by photosynthesis and it forms a key part of the root of life’s family tree. Photosynthesis harnesses the electromagnetic energy carried by photons of sunlight and turns it into chemical energy. There are two types, oxygenic and an-oxygenic photosynthesis. The general principles of both are similar, but oxygenic photosynthesis is the most common and powers all plants, algae and cyanobacteria.

Chlorophyll within leaves and stems of plants absorbs the light and synthesizes carbohydrates such as sugars using carbon dioxide and water drawn from the environment. Different wavelengths within the visible spectrum, corresponding with particular colours, play an important role in photosynthesis but plants don’t absorb all colours evenly. Chlorophyll absorbs violet-blue and red but all green wavelengths are reflected, hence the apparent greenness of nature.

If evolution hadn’t come up with photosynthesis, there would be no oxygen in the atmosphere, no protective ozone layer above it, and probably no life on dry land. Planet Earth minus the intervention of photosynthesis would be anathema to the higher life-forms around today and would be populated only by primitive bacteria in oceans or deep in the soil.

Since the advent of photosynthesis, organic life and the planet have co-evolved. Forests turn to coal. Seashells turn to limestone. Plants draw the nutrients and water they need from the soil. Even plate tectonics may play a critical role in nourishing life. Organisms and bio-systems draw upon what remains of the light absorbed by the generations of life-forms that have preceded them. The continuity and unity of life that we know today is evident in the uniformity of genetic systems, the molecular composition of living cells and the chemistry that folds in and out of living things.

But it seems that photosynthesis has its limits.  Is there a boundary in terms of complexity and the concentration and transmission of information that plant-life cannot achieve? Animals don’t produce chlorophyll, nor do they rely on photosynthesis for energy. All observable forms of sentience and self-awareness fruit on the higher branches of our evolutionary tree and it is up there that we find animals with eye holes.

Time fameEvent
4.6 billion years agoEarth forms
3.4 billion years agoFirst photosynthetic bacteria appear
2.7 billion years agoCyanobacteria become the first oxygen producers
2.4 billion years agoEarliest evidence (from rocks) that oxygen was in the atmosphere
1.2 billion years agoRed and brown algae become structurally more complex than bacteria
750 million years agoGreen algae outperform red and brown algae in the strong light of shallow water
470 million years agoFirst land plants – mosses and liverworts
200,000 years agoHomo Sapiens

Photosynthesis has played a central role in the evolution of life. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_of_photosynthesis)

New connections between light and life emerged along with the animal kingdom. Even though the kingdom is diverse, animals share common features that distinguish them from other organisms.  Animals are incapable of photosynthesis but rely wholly upon it as they ingest living or dead organic matter and each other. Almost all animals have specialized tissues that form organs not least of which is the central nervous system. Offspring pass through developmental stages that establish a determined body plan, unlike plants, for example, in which the exact shape of the body is indeterminate. At one end of  every animal body is the head where the nervous system is most densely concentrated and from which cords of neurons extend towards the surface breaking out into a profusion of light-sensitive tips. It is as if the central nervous system reaches outwards to sense the world beyond itself, but not just to see its surroundings but also to search for some evidence by which to account for its own existence.

In On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin noted:

How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself first originated; but . . as some of the lowest organisms . . are known to be sensitive to light, it does not seem impossible that certain elements . . should become aggregated and developed into nerves endowed with this special sensibility.

Some of the early forms of eyes looked like small spots before evolving into concave cups and then developing lenses and so a more successful and competitive organ for sight. The process probably required 364,000 generations, so as short a period as half a million years. Our eyes are exactly tuned to respond to the band of energy between red and violet that can make its way through the atmosphere. It is this same range of wavelengths that powers the entire canopy of  life that covers the planet on land and at sea. When light strikes a photo-sensitive rod or cone cell in the retina of the eye, it releases energy and triggers a chemical reaction which in turn produces an electrical impulse that, after processing, is transmitted to the brain. It seems likely that from the moment the chemical reaction begins that the energy received contributes in one way or another to visual perception and, in humans so to conscious experience. Initially, eyes probably could distinguish between light and dark. But it is theorised that the prototypical ability to distinguish between organism and environment may have also been an early function.

If you have seen the film 2001: A Space Odyssey you will have your own conception of the point at which animal species began the long haul from the distant reaches of sentience towards tools, artefacts and images –  the right of passage to the last in our series of prerequisites for and interconnections between the cosmological, biological and sentient dimensions of our lives that helps to place visual perception in context. Imagination!

Imagination

The opening paragraph of this article centred attention on the connections between light and sight and the question of why so many creatures have developed eyes. Subsequent paragraphs provided a brief tour of the early Universe and the place of light within it. In the preceding paragraph, a concerted effort has made to trace out more detail to substantiate the links between the dawn of the cosmos, the advent of matter and bodies large and small, the dependence of life on photosynthesis and the appearance of eyes.

The links between each facet of the account are emergent in the sense that new properties emerge once the necessary preconditions have been met. Emergent properties arise from interactions among the parts of a whole. In this sense, life, as studied in biology, is clearly an emergent property of chemistry and eyes couldn’t evolve before bodies. Taken as a whole, can we make the speculative claim that eyes are an emergent property of light?

The point is, without eyes there would be no experience of light, and, had eyes not evolved, we would not only be unable to see, but there would be no visual component to our world. Can you imagine a world in which the sense of sight never existed? Until life developed on Earth, the Cosmos had never seen itself. Only living things can sense the existence of the world. Without us living beings, nothing from a grain of sand to the whole of the night sky knows anything about our reality. Without us, matter and energy exist but they don’t know themselves because they cannot create an image of the world!  Eyes connect our experience directly and instantly to electromagnetic radiation, to the visible spectrum, to colour and to everything between here and eternity that we can describe in terms of one aspect of visual perception or another.

Without our eyes, the cosmological scale of the Universe would be beyond the reach of our other senses. It would be impossible to picture what is out there beyond earshot and the sense of smell – it’s scale, how it changes, it’s history or future. Without images of these objective dimensions of our world, our images of ourselves and our own lives would be similarly blinkered. Without the benefits of visual perception, we would be little more than squishy slime-balls, stuck by gravity to the surface of an insignificant sphere of rock, blindly living out our lives within its narrow envelope of atmosphere, with nothing beyond.

It’s easy to take our sensory experiences for granted, but because so much of our day-to-day lives centre on images, vision is, without any doubt, the faculty we need to be most critically aware of. Unless we explore and critique the economic, social, political and cultural forces that shape our perspectives, our horizons remain narrow and parochial. Left alone, most of our experiences, whilst figuring so prominently in our world-views, largely exclude an ability to cognize the implications of our own every-day behaviour, the road our species is taking or the direction in which it is heading. Animal exploitation, environmental degradation, domestic violence, homelessness, illness, poverty, prejudice, racism, slavery, social inequalities, starvation, war, among others, affects millions of human beings and our natural world every day. To recognize, understand and know how to address such issues requires a type of vision and forms of imagination, that can only be developed over time. The powers of discrimination that enable us to decode the ways we see and understand the world, must be nurtured to prevent the wool from being drawn over our eyes. We must constantly re-envision ourselves, our lives and our potential.

As far as we know, life on Earth is the only form of life anywhere. At best, we barely exist in relation to the scale of everything around us. The lifetime of even the most enduring species are brief sparks in the history of our solar system. In terms of the size of the Milky Way, there just are no dots small enough to represent ourselves. The existence of life itself registers only in our own minds and those of a small family of animals around us. The news has yet to reach the galaxy next door that Homo Sapiens evolution is immanent – the Andromeda Galaxy is 2.5 million light-years away. Beyond that, galaxies like our own, huge as they are like motes of dust.

The point is that in the end, it all comes down to how we want to imagine ourselves. We can look around and see how small we are in relation to everything else. We can fill our minds with trivia and live the life of couch potatoes. The more we constrain ourselves the more tightly we draw in the frame around ourselves reducing its scope and content and veer towards the point at which we feel completely hopeless and alone. 

Or we can do the reverse. The larger the frame, the more life and the more light gets in. We can choose! Select a frame to become human. Select another to admit other animals and then planet Earth. Expand further to grow tendrils across time and space and reach out to other worlds. Become timeless. More than anything we must never stop using our eyes. Reach further and further and we can see the whole of the Universe in a grain of sand.

  1. Eyesight is not a faculty that is universally enjoyed. An estimated 36 million people worldwide can’t see. Even when blind from birth, sightless people understand how others see the world even though they have never personally experienced visual images, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University.
  2. For much of the first half of the 20th-century women were excluded from many scientific and academic opportunities and institutions. The astronomer Vera Rubin was the first woman to use the Palomar telescope legally in 1963-64. The application form she was given stated at the top, “Due to limited facilities, it is not possible to accept application from women”. The limited facilities referred to was the presence of only one toilet at the observatory!
  3. Cosmic Evolution, Eric J. Chaisson. https://www.physicscentral.com/explore/writers/chaisson.cfm

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  36. Zavisa, J. (2020, March 27). How Special Relativity Works. Retrieved from https://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/everyday-myths/relativity3.htm
  37. Zavisa, J. (2020, March 27). How Special Relativity Works. Retrieved from https://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/everyday-myths/relativity4.htm
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Contents, Foreword, & Introduction

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A few quick thoughts and then an introduction to our articles before you get started.

List of Contents

The exact list of articles and the organization of their content is still being fine-tuned. The plan is to produce a total of sixteen articles to start with. We will update this list as things evolve.

  1. Contents, Foreword & Introduction
  2. Light and the Preconditions for Visual Perception
  3. Sense-making
  4. The Visual Pathway
  5. Visual Processing
  6. Talking About Colour
  7. A Language of Colour
  8. Ways of Seeing
  9. Embodied Experience
  10. About Images
  11. Seeing More
  12. On Photography
  13. Prerequisites for Seeing More in an Educational Context
  14. Prerequisites for Seeing More: Wellness, Well-being and Self-development
  15. A Paradigm Shift
  16. Resources for a Seeing More Workshop

FOREWORD: A FEW WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT

We wanted to start off with a few words of encouragement to anyone who finds our articles to be a bit of a challenge.

You may have found your way to lightcolourvision.org and to this series of articles because of an interest in making sense of the connections between light, colour and vision. On the other hand, you might be inquisitive about the idea of seeing the world in new ways and with the question of how to see more.

Many visitors have started off on sites like Wikipedia but had problems with the vocabulary, concepts and how they link together. You are not alone! Most Wikipedia pages attract specialized communities and experts who tend to assume that their audience knows their jargon and are already part of the discussion. At worst, they are highly technical and so difficult to follow. As a result, they may not suite a general readership.

With that in mind, our resources are assembled for a general readership of students, teachers and researchers who want to build overviews containing key information arranged in a logical and connected way. Our aim is to keep the vocabulary simple and introduce new ideas one step at a time so that visitors can build on their own knowledge. We also have a References Library which can be accessed by following the blue links embedded in the text.

Some points for readers who initially feel a bit out of their depth!

  • Be kind to your self. Don’t freak out and walk away.
  • Allow plenty of time to read through every sentence and give things time to sink in.
  • Read sentences out loud if that helps.
  • Pick out any new terms or concepts that you need to work on.
  • Check out unfamiliar words using the embedded links or with an internet search.
  • Cut and paste the important points into your own notes.
  • Read backwards and forwards between images and text.
  • Never give up on new ideas. Just keep going and come back to them again later until they sink in.
  • Eventually the unfamiliar becomes familiar and things that initially seem complicated become more straight forward.
  • We all succeed when we treat learning as a journey.
  • Every single day is an opportunity for each of us to travel a little further down our own road.

Last but not least, do please contact us with any ideas, concerns or questions you may have.

Preface

Common practice when writing articles is to publish them on completion. Visitors will find we are taking a somewhat different approach. In some cases we publish as soon as we have a complete draft. In the case of LIGHT: PRECONDITIONS FOR VISUAL PERCEPTION we first published it even earlier. The idea is to be open about the development process and the challenges of authorship.

All the topics we cover in our articles reflect long-standing interests but each one also represents us with an opportunity to do new research. In some cases new ideas or connections emerge and need ongoing attention before they can be properly resolved. This process continues long after initial publication and feedback from our readership can prompt anything from correcting typos to rewriting whole paragraphs.

So we invite you to get involved in the process. We invite everything from co-authorship to fact checking. You might even like to write your own guest post. Take the initiative, let us know your thoughts 🙂

Introduction

The name of our website, lightcolourvision.org, provides important clues to what it’s all about. Yes! It explores light, colour and vision. But why would anyone dedicate hours and hours researching these topics and creating resources that explore how they link together?

The motivation can be found in the by-line which reads & how to see more. It is this question that drives the whole initiative – the website itself and the 100’s of pages of content, including images, explanations, definitions and articles.

The point is, that if we know a little about light, colour and vision then we can begin to grasp how we see the world and appreciate something of why it appears as it does. As we become more aware of how and what we see now, then we can begin to explore new ways of looking at things.

To come to terms with the how, what and why of visual perception is a matter of thinking through the act of seeing and what we see. It’s also about questioning the different ways we know how to look at things and of both learning new way of looking more closely and developing the scope of our vision.

Although the world does simply appear in front of us whenever we open our eyes and look around, seeing properly involves skill. We have all been learning those skills since we were infants and everyone with normal eyesight already knows a lot about how to get by on a daily basis. But there is so much more!

But learning new skills is not always straightforward!  Not everyone knows how to think about the experience of seeing in a rigorous, critical and sceptical way. Most of us are far too busily caught up in the action and absorbed in the content to break through everyday expectations and to really change how we do things.

Lightcolourvision.org is all about exploring how to become a ninja master of seeing. Once completed, this series of articles, will try and ask the difficult questions, map out as much of the journey as we can, and, explore how anyone with sufficient motivation can develop new skills and learn to see in new, unexpected and beneficial ways.

Our aim is to gather perspectives from fields as diverse as the arts, astronomy, cognitive sciences, education, neuroscience, philosophy and physics to enable us to build resources that weave together new and unexpected patterns of creative thinking and behaviour.

For those who feel ready for such a journey, be prepared for the unexpected.  Established certainties and convictions need to be swept away. We hope to carefully peeled apart your world layer by layer. A whole new way of seeing may emergep, constructed through moments of epiphany and inspiration, flashes of insight, feeling of awe and wonder.

As a starting point, let’s have a quick look at those core terms that appear in our lightcolourvision.org banner.

Light

Without light we see nothing! Without light, our eyes can’t function at all! It is the fact that eyes respond to light that allows us to gather the information needed to not only see things but also to make sense of the world.

Light has existed almost since the beginning of time and will still fill the universe long after planet Earth and its inhabitants are forgotten.

Our exploration of light looks at what it is, where it comes from and the part that it plays in our life. The discussion builds on the physics of light. During the last century, physics has established that light is produced by one of four fundamental forces to be found in nature. It is the electromagnetic force that produces electromagnetic radiation including the narrow band of wavelengths of light that our eyes respond to.

Sunlight, the light produced by our local star, the Sun, powers our world every hour of every day. Light is also produced by all the other 100 to 400 billion stars that make up our galaxy, the Milky Way. Recent research meanwhile reveals that there may be as many as two trillion other galaxies out there beyond our own.

Unfortunately, our eyes are only sensitive enough to see around 2,500 stars maximum as we look up into a clear night sky on a moonless night. But with the right kind of telescope, like the Hubble Space telescope, it is possible to find faint evidence of light from distant galaxies that has travelled for billions of years to get here.

Colour

If human beings and related species were all to disappear overnight, the world would still be full of light but there would be no colour. Colour is a product of human vision, something that only exists for living things like ourselves. Colour is what we experience in the presence of light.

Once the basics of light have been discussed, the most important ground to cover in subsequent articles concerns the way that our eyes are tuned to respond to the band of wavelengths of light that produce the colours between red and violet. These are the wavelengths of light that make it through the atmosphere to our planet’s surface. We are fortunate that, at sea level, the band is so narrow, because otherwise we would be microwaved or burned to cinders. It is this same small range of wavelengths that directly powers the entire canopy of plant life that covers our planet, both on land and at sea.

Vision

Visual perception is the human ability to see and interpret our surrounding. It results from a collaboration between eyeballs and brain. Although the processing of visual information starts within the retina of each eye, it is our brain’s extraordinary ability to translate purely visual information about light into the thoughts, language, speech and writing that exemplifies human experience.

Visual perception can’t be considered in isolation because all of our other sense perceptions are also wound into everyday experience and our sense of ourselves. Human beings are also creatures of action. It is the connection between sensory experience, thought, action and patterns of behaviour that helps to explain our industriousness, the extraordinary variety of our cultures, the complexity of our societies and our creative ability to re-imagine and remake ourselves and our world.

Now consider the following scenarios, each one describes a very different form of visual perception.

  • When light enters my eyes, the lenses form tiny images in the same way a camera does.
  • Each image is two dimensional and covers a maximum of 32mm measured across the surface of each retina from side to side and top to bottom.
  • It is those two images and the sensation they produce in light-sensitive cells that account for my visual perception of the world outside.
  • Outside my eyes is an entire world but everything I see is deduced from those flickering pictures projected onto each retina and from nothing more.
  • If I close my eyes and tell myself what I want to see, I can produce a mental image of almost anything, visualizing it in my mind’s eye.
  • These mental images often appear of their own volition.
  • A mental image can be in black and white or full colour. It can be an indoor or outdoor setting. It can be as bright as midday or as dark as midnight. It can be a stationary scene or full of movement. It can be as flat as paper or include full three-dimensional space.
  • Whatever objective scene I imagine, there is always a subjective point of view.
  • There I am, surveying that mental image. Everything is laid out just for me!
  • If I close my eyes I am still there as an observer of each mental image.
  • Ir can act like a film director selecting the content and every detail of the scene , choosing the viewpoint, the type of lens (wide-angle or telephoto), lighting and every other defining feature.
  • If I choose, I can turn my attention from the mental image and make this film director into the object of my attention.
  • I now have a mental image of myself seeing myself looking. I have an image of my own mind’s eye rather than the object of its gaze.
  • I can focus my laser vision on my own thoughts and feelings and nothing is hidden from my penetrating attention.
  • I can reflect on myself, the observer, and question what I am looking at, my motivations and about how I experience a mental image.

Each of these scenarios exemplifies normal behaviour. Together they are often described as aspects of reflective practice. As part of subsequent investigations of vision, we will take each one apart as if it were some kind of intricate clock with the aim of exposing what makes it tick.

How to see more

When we look more closely at things, we see them afresh and make new discoveries. A careful look at the most familiar everyday situation can reveal unnoticed qualities or a new perspective. Learning how to see more may involve looking closely, at other times we need to stand back to get a broader perspective on things. To see more involves looking beyond the impression that seeing is like sitting comfortably in a cinema watching a movie. What we see is not a ready-made product, it is our own creation. But some of it is also the product of jaded perspectives and outmoded assumptions. Exploring how to see more involves imaginatively challenging the lazy habits we fall into and uncritical mental antics that are well beyond their used date. Seeing more is about deciding that its time for a fresh look at this ageing machinery, at ourselves and the world.

The hypothesis

There is a hypothesis to be extrapolated from what has been said so far. It also underpins everything that follows. It goes something like this.

1. We see the world afresh in every moment because nothing repeats in quite the same way. Whether we realize it or not, every time we look around, the world has moved on. Everything is in a constant process of change and becoming different. A storm on the distant horizon, a tiger in the bushes, an arrow speeding through the air towards us. These are small changes in the grander scheme of things, but we can assume that it is the human capacity to notice such details and to work out what they mean that accounts in some part for our survival as a species over millennia.

2. As time goes on, we accumulate new insights, add new details and accumulate improved representations of all the things we recognize and so engage in a learning process that adds to our accumulating knowledge. At the same time, mistakes, errors of judgement and outmoded assumptions involve rethinking things, either in part or, as a whole. This process allows us to engage actively in improving our grasp of the world and of understanding ourselves, the viewer.

3. We have to cut deeper to appreciate where each of our pictures of the world comes from. Our world might appear, at a casual glance, to be constructed simply from what we have personally learnt over time and from our own experiences and memories, but this is only a tiny part of the story. We are at the receiving end of a deluge of pre-packaged images and messages every day of our lives that tell us what there is to be seen and direct our attention to particular views – personal, social, cultural, political, economic etc. Beneath each are the media industries that shape the content to ensure we see things from a particular point of view. Behind them, are companies, corporations and vested interests that profit from the behaviour that follows. It is those institutions that house the tiny proportion of the world’s population who control this machinery and benefit directly from what we see.

4. Every generation of human beings is born into a world which will outlast them. They take on the word-view that belongs to their age. A world-view might be thought of as containing the over-arching convictions of their age. We have little difficulty looking back at the beliefs of our fore-bearers and the absurdity of their ideas. But what of our own? If we look deep enough we may be able to see paradigm shifts in our own world-view. To be engaged in the process of learning to see more is to be on the crest of those waves and to be part of their unfolding.

About the articles

The first article, LIGHT AND THE EMERGENCE OF VISUAL PERCEPTION aims to set the scene for everything that follows. It is about properties of light but it is also about the connection between light and visual perception. If we jump directly to the last section, the conclusion begins by arguing that light is part and parcel of what we could call our experience of being human but is also a prerequisite for human being.

The aim is to frame the discussion in terms of the observation that our lives are embedded in conditions and processes that are cosmological in scale and that the preconditions for the way we see things on a day-to-day basis have emerged progressively over almost unimaginable time scales.

The account begins with a description of the early Universe and the circumstances that produced the earliest manifestation and transmission of streams of photons of light. It then tracks forward to the present day and the modern telescopes that allow us to recognize the relics of that same light as it streams into our eyes whenever we look up into the night sky.

The article nudges and prods two thoughts as it unfolds. One recognizes that our lives are circumscribed by very local conditions and that we are entirely powerless in the face of the scale and grandeur of the cosmos. The other contemplates the implications of connections between the origins of light and the emergence of visual perception and cognition in human beings.

The overall tone encourages an active rethinking of life in a way that is empowering. It is addressed particularly to young people who feel burdened by our present situation and see the possibility of radical changes in the way human beings envision themselves. It speaks to those who are already aware of the risks associated with nuclear conflict, climate change, environmental destruction and the industrialized and brutal exploitation of animals, among others.

It encourages all readers to rethink the ways in which we conceive of ourselves and our potential as a species.

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AchromaticChromatic, mediate colour vision
Low acuityHigh acuity
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The Visual Pathway

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THE EXPERIENCE OF COLOUR

Colour is something we see every moment of our lives if we are conscious and exposed to light. Some people have limited colour vision and so rely more heavily on other senses – touch, hearing, taste and smell.

Colour is always there whether we are aware and pay attention to it or not. Colour is what human beings experience in the presence of light. It is important to be clear about this. Unless light strikes something, whether it is air, a substance like water, a physical object or the retina at the back of our eyes, light, as it travels through space, is invisible and so has no colour whatsoever. As suggested in the previous section, colour is an artefact of human vision, something that only exists for living things like ourselves. Seeing is a sensation that makes us aware of light and takes the form of colour.

The experience of colour is unmediated. This means that it is simply what we see and how the world appears. In normal circumstances, we feel little or nothing of what is going on as light enters our eyes. We have no awareness whatsoever of the chemical processes going on within photosensitive neurons or of electrical signals on their way to the brain. We know nothing of what goes on within our visual cortex when we register a yellow ball or a red house. The reality is, we rarely even notice when we blink! In terms of immediate present perception, colour is simply something that is here and now, it is an aspect of the world we see as life unfolds before us and is augmented by our other senses, as well as by words, thoughts and feelings etc.

It takes about 0.15 seconds from the moment light enters the human eye to conscious recognition of basic objects. What happens during this time is related to the visual pathway that can be traced from the inner surface of the eyeball to the brain and then into conscious experience. The route is formed from cellular tissue including chains of neurons some of which are photosensitive, with others tuned to fulfil related functions.

So, let’s start at the beginning!

Before light enters the eye and stimulates the visual system of a human observer it is often reflected off the surfaces of objects within the field of view. When this happens, unless the surface is mirror-like, it scatters in all directions and so only a small proportion travels directly towards the eyes. Some of the scattered light may illuminate the body or face of the observer or miss them completely. Some is reflected off the iris and enables us to see the colour of a person’s eyes. A little more is reflected off the retina – think of red-eye in flash photography.

Cross-section of the human eyeball

If we think of light in terms of rays, then some rays will be in line with the eyes of our observer as they look at an object. Rays that strike the outer surface of the eyeball directly in front of the pupil encounter various transparent media including the cornea, then the lens followed by vitreous humour, the gel that fills the eyeball. Then, they arrive at the retina.

Along an axis corresponding with the central line of vision, light enters perpendicular to the curvature of the cornea and travels straight towards the retina striking the fovea centralis at the centre of the macula where the sharpest image is formed. All the rays of light around this central line of vision change direction slightly because of refraction. The lens also affects their direction of travel as it adjusts in shape to ensure that as many rays as possible are focused exactly onto the retinal surface.

Visual Design – Colour Theory
http://www.dsource.in/course/visual-design-colour-theory/colour-perception-and-human-responses

THE RETINA

Human beings see the world in colour because of the way their visual system processes light.  The retina contains light-sensitive receptors, rod and cone cells, that respond to light stimuli. It is the variety of wavelengths and intensities of light entering the eyes that produces the impression of colour.

The retina is the innermost, light-sensitive layer of tissue inside our eyes. It forms a sheet of tissue barely 200 micrometres (μm) thick, but its neural networks carry out almost unimaginably complicated feats of image processing.

The physiology of the eye results in a tiny, focused, two-dimensional image of the visual world being projected onto the retina’s surface. Because of the optics of lenses, it appears upside down and the wrong way around. But no worry, sorting that out is child’s play for the human brain! The real challenge is that the photosensitive receptors in the retina must produce precise chemical responses to light and translate every minute detail of the image into electrical impulse ready to be sent to the brain where they produce visual impressions of the world. In a very limited sense, the retina serves a similar function to a photosensitive chip in a camera.

As research continues to reveal ever-increasing amounts of detail about these signalling processes across and beyond the retina, it required new thinking, not only of the retina’s function but also of the mechanisms within the brain that shape these signals into behaviourally useful perceptions.

The retina consists of 60-plus distinct neuron-types, each of which plays a specialized role in turning variations in the patterns of wavelengths and intensities of light into visual information. Neurons are electrically excitable nerve cells that collect, process and transmit vast amounts of this information through both chemical and electrical signals. Retinal neurons work together to convert the signals produced by a hundred and twenty million rods and cones and send them along around one million fibres within the optic nerve of each eye to connections with higher brain functions. In this process rods and cones are first responders whilst ganglion cells are the final port of call before information leaves the retina.

There are three principal forms of processing that take place within the retina itself. The first organises the outputs of the rod and cone photoreceptors and begins to compose them into around 12 parallel information streams as they travel through bipolar cells. The second connects these streams to specific types of retinal ganglion cells. The third modulates the information using feedback from horizontal and amacrine cells to create the diverse encodings of the visual world that the retina transmits towards the brain.

As mentioned above, the image of the outside world focused on the retina is upside down and the wrong way around. But the human retina is also inverted in the sense that the light-sensitive rod and cone cells are not located on the surface where the image forms, but instead are embedded inside, where the retina attaches to the fabric of the eyeball. As a result, light striking the retina, passes through layers of other neurons (ganglion, bipolar cells etc.) and blood-carrying capillaries, before reaching the photoreceptors.

The overlying neural fibres do not significantly degrade vision in the inverted retina. The neurons are relatively transparent and accompanying Müller cells act as fibre-optic channels to transport photons directly to photoreceptors. However, some estimates suggest that overall, around 15% of all the light entering the eye is lost en-route to the retina. To counter this, the fovea centralis, at the centre of our field of vision, is free of rods and there are no blood vessels running through it, so optimising the level of detail where we need it most.

Caption [Retina close-up]

Retina
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retina

From retinal input to cortical processing and perception

Visual input is initially encoded in the retina as a two-dimensional distribution of light intensity, expressed as a function of position, wavelength and time in each of the two eyes. This retinal image is transferred to the visual cortex where primary sensory cues and, later, inferred attributes, are eventually computed (see figure). Parallel processing strategies are employed from the outset to overcome the constraints of the individual ganglion cell’s limited bandwidth and the anatomical bottleneck of the optic nerve.

Caption [Fovea centralis close-up]

Parallel Processing Strategies of the Primate Visual System.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2771435/
Adapted from DeYoe and Van Essen (1988).

Rods and cones

Both the photosensitive rods and cones form a regularly spaced mosaic of cells across the entirety of the retina – bar the absence of rods in the fovea centralis. Because there are 100 million rod receptors and 20 million cone receptors in each eye, rods are packed more densely per unit area. The synaptic connections of both rods and cones vary in function in different locations across the retina, reflecting the specialisations of different regions. This, for example, allows the eyes to deal with daylight and darkness and with what we see at the centre and periphery of our field of view.

Rods and cones are easily distinguished by their shape, from which they derive their names, the type of photopigment they contain and by distinct patterns of synaptic connections with the other neurons around them.

Neurons (nerve cells) are present throughout the human central and peripheral nervous systems and fall into three main categories: sensory, motor and interneurons. Rods and cones are both sensory neurons. Rods don’t produce as sharp an image as cone cells because they share more connections with other types of neurons. But a rod cell is believed to be sensitive enough to respond to a single photon of light whilst cone cells require tens to hundreds of photons to be activated.

The principal task of rod and cone cells alike is phototransduction. This refers to the type of sensory transduction that takes place in the visual system. It is the process of phototransduction that enables pigmented chemicals in the rods and cones to sense light and convert it into electrical signals. Many other types of sensory transduction occur elsewhere within the body enabling touch and hearing for example.

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Functional Specialization of the Rod and Cone Systems
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK10850/

 

Trichromatic colour vision (Trichromacy)

Phototransduction by cone cell receptors is the physiological basis for trichromatic colour vision in humans. The fact that we see colour is, in the first instance, the result of interactions among the three types of cones, each of which responds with a bias towards its favoured wavelength within the visible spectrum. The result is that the L, M and S cone types respond best to light with long wavelengths (biased towards 560 nm), medium wavelengths (biased towards 530 nm), and short wavelengths (biased towards 420 nm) respectively.

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Trivariance

The term trivariance is used to refer to this first stage of the trichromatic process. It refers to both the phototransductive response of the cone cells themselves and to the three separate channels used to convey their colour information forward to subsequent levels of neural processing.

Each channel conveys information about the response of one cone-type to both the wavelength of the incoming light it is tuned to and to its intensity. In both physiological and neurological terms this process is exclusively concerned with trivariance – three discernible differences in the overall composition of light entering the eye.

It is the separation of the signals produced on each channel that accounts for the ability of our eyes to respond to stimuli produced by additive mixtures of wavelengths corresponding with red, green and blue primary colours. But more of that later!

By way of summary, the rod and trivariant cone systems are composed of photoreceptors with connections to other cell types within the retina. Both specialize in different aspects of vision. The rod system is extremely sensitive to light but has a low spatial resolution. Conversely, the cone system is designed to function in stronger light. As a result, cones are relatively insensitive compared with rods but have a very high spatial resolution. It is this specialisation that results in the extraordinary detail, resolution and clarity of human vision.

Rod SystemCone System
High sensitivity, specialized for night visionLower sensitivity specialized for day vision
Saturate in daylightSaturate only in intense light
AchromaticChromatic, mediate colour vision
Low acuityHigh acuity
Not present in the central foveaConcentrated in the central fovea
Present in larger number than conesPresent in smaller number than rods

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Retinal image

It is the cornea-lens system that determines where light falls on the surface of the retina which results in discernible images.

The images are inverted and obviously very small compared with the world outside that they resolve. The inversion poses no problem. Our brains are very flexible and even when tricked by prisms will always turn the world right-side-up given time. The reduction in size is part of the process by which the fit of the image on the retina determines our field of view.

The images are real in the sense that they are formed by the actual convergence of light rays onto the curved plane of the retina. Only real images of this kind provide the necessary stimulation of rod and cone cells necessary for human perception.

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Fovea centralis

The entire surface of the retina contains nerve cells, but there is a small portion with a diameter of approximately 0.25 mm at the centre of the macula called the fovea centralis where the concentration of cones is greatest. This region is the optimal location for the formation of image detail. The eyes constantly rotate in their sockets to focus images of objects of interest as precisely as possible at this location.

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Accommodation

The distance between the retina (the detector) and the cornea (the refractor) is fixed in the human eyeball. The eye must be able to alter the focal length of the lens in order to accurately focus images of both nearby and far away objects on the retinal surface. This is achieved by small muscles that alter the shape of the lens. The distance of objects of interest to an observer varies from infinity to next to nothing but the image distance remains constant.

The ability of the eye to adjust its focal length is known as accommodation. The eye accommodates by assuming a lens shape that has a shorter focal length for nearby objects in which case the ciliary muscles squeeze the lens into a more convex shape. For distant objects, the ciliary muscles relax, and the lens adopts a flatter form with a longer focal length.

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Bipolar cells

Bipolar cells, a type of neuron found in the retina of the human eye connect with other types of nerve cells via synapses. They act, directly or indirectly, as conduits through which to transmit signals from photoreceptors (rods and cones) to ganglion cells.

There are around 12 types of bipolar cells and each one functions as an integrating centre for a different parsing of information extracted from the photoreceptors. So, each type transmits a different analysis and interpretation of the information it has gathered.

The output of bipolar cells onto ganglion cells includes both the direct response of the bipolar cell to signals derived from phototransduction but also responses to those signals received indirectly from information provided by nearby amacrine cells that are also wired into the circuitry.

We might imagine one type of bipolar cell connecting directly from a cone to a ganglion cell that simply compares signals based on differences in wavelength. The ganglion cell might then use the information to determine whether a certain point is a scene is red or green.

Not all bipolar cells synapse directly with a single ganglion cell. Some channel information that is sampled by different sets of ganglion cells. Others terminate elsewhere within the complex lattices of interconnections within the retina so enabling them to carry packets of information to an array of different locations and cell types.

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Amacrine cells

Amacrine cells interact with bipolar cells and/or ganglion cells. They are a type of interneuron that monitor and augment the stream of data through bipolar cells and also control and refine the response of ganglion cells and their subtypes.

Amacrine cells are in a central but inaccessible region of the retinal circuitry. Most are without tale-like axons. Whilst they clearly have multiple connections to other neurons around them, their precise inputs and outputs are difficult to trace. They are driven by and send feedback to the bipolar cells but also synapse on ganglion cells, and with each other.

Amacrine cells are known to serve narrowly task-specific visual functions including:

  • Efficient transmission of high-fidelity visual information with a good signal-to-noise ratio.
  • Maintaining the circadian rhythm, so keeping our lives tuned to the cycles of day and night and helping to govern our lives throughout the year.
  • Measuring the difference between the response of specific photoreceptors compared with surrounding cells (centre-surround antagonism) which enables edge detection and contrast enhancement.
  • Object motion detection which provides an ability to distinguish between the true motion of an object across the field of view and the motion of our eyes.

Centre-surround antagonism refers to the way retinal neurons organize their receptive fields.  The centre component is primed to measure the sum-total of signals received from a small number of cones directly connected to a bipolar cell. The surround component is primed to measure the sum of signals received from a much larger number of cones around the centre point. The two signals are then compared to find the degree to which they agree or disagree.

Caption

Horizontal cells

Horizontal cells are connected to rod and cone cells by synapses and are classed as laterally interconnecting neurons.

Horizontal cells help to integrate and regulate information received from photoreceptor cells, cleaning up and globally adjusting signals passing through bipolar cells towards the regions containing ganglion cells.

An important function of horizontal cells is enabling the eye to adjust to both bright and dim light conditions. They achieve this by providing feedback to rod and cone photoreceptors about the average level of illumination falling onto specific regions of the retina.

If a scene contains objects that are much brighter than others, then horizontal cells are believed to prevent signals representing the brightest objects from dazzling the retina and degrading the overall quality of information.

Caption

The Neuronal Organization of the Retina Richard H. Masland
https://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273(12)00883-5?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0896627312008835%3Fshowall%3Dtrue

 

Ganglion cells

Retinal ganglion cells are located near the boundary between the retina and the central chamber containing vitreous humour.  They collect and process all the visual information gathered directly or indirectly from the forty-something types of rod, cone, bipolar, horizontal and amacrine cells and, once finished, transmit it via their axons towards higher visual centres within the brain.

The axons of ganglion cells form into the fibres of the optic nerve that synapse at the other end on the lateral geniculate nucleus. Axons take the form of long slender fibre-like projections of the cell body and typically conduct electrical impulses, often called action potentials, away from a neuron.

A single ganglion cell communicates with as few as five photoreceptors in the fovea at the centre of the macula. This produces images containing the maximum possible resolution of detail. At the extreme periphery of the retina, a single ganglion cell receives information from many thousands of photoreceptors.

Around twenty distinguishable functional types of ganglion cells resolve the information received from 120 million rods and cones into one million parallel streams of information about the world surveyed by a human observer in real-time throughout every day of their lives. They function to complete the construction of the foundations of visual experience by the retina, ordering the eyes response to light into the fundamental building blocks of vision.  Ganglion cells do the groundwork that enables retinal encodings to ultimately converge into a unified representation of the visual world.

Ganglion cells not only deal with colour information streaming in from rod and cone cells but also with the deductions, inferences, anticipatory functions and modifications suggested by bipolar, amacrine and horizontal cells. Their challenge, therefore, is to enable all this data to converge and to assemble it into high fidelity, redundancy-free, compressed and coded form that can continue to be handled within the available bandwidth and so the data-carrying capacity of the optic nerve.

It is not hard to imagine the kind of challenges they must deal with:

  • Information must feed into and support the distinct attributes of visual perception and be available to be resolved within the composition of our immediately present visual impressions whenever needed.
  • Information must correspond with the outstanding discriminatory capacities that enable the visual system to operate a palette that can include millions of perceivable variations in colour.
  • Information about the outside world must be able to be automatically cross-referenced, highly detailed, specifically relevant, spatial and temporally sequenced and available on demand.
  • Information must be subjectively orientated in a way that it is locked at an impeccable level of accurate detail to even our most insane intentions as we leap from rock to rock across a swollen river or dive from an aircraft wearing only a wingsuit and negotiate the topography of a mountainous landscape speeding past at 260km per hour.

It is now known that efficient transmission of colour information is achieved by a transformation of the initial three trivariant colour mechanisms of rods and cones into one achromatic and two chromatic channels. But another processing stage has now been recognised that dynamically readjusts the eye’s trivariant responses to meet criteria of efficient colour information management and to provide us with all the necessary contextualising details as we survey the world around us. Discussion of opponent-processing is dealt with in the next article!

Caption [Humans differentiate between 200 hues in the visible spectrum]

Müller cells

Müller glia, or Müller cells, are a type of retinal cell that serve as support cells for neurons, as other types of glial cells do.

An important role of Müller cells is to funnel light to the rod and cone photoreceptors from the outer surface of the retina to where the photoreceptors are located.

Other functions include maintaining the structural and functional stability of retinal cells. They regulate the extracellular environment, remove debris, provide electrical insulation of the photoreceptors and other neurons, and mechanical support for the fabric of the retina.

  • All glial cells (or simply glia), are non-neuronal cells in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system.
  • Müller cells are the most common type of glial cell found in the retina. While their cell bodies are located in the inner nuclear layer of the retina, they span the entire retina.

Caption

Pigment epithelium

Pigment epithelium is a layer of cells at the boundary between the retina and the eyeball that nourish neurons within the retina. It is firmly attached to the underlying choroid is the connective tissue that forms the eyeball on one side but less firmly connected to retinal visual cells on the other.

Caption

Optic nerve

The optic nerve is the cable–like grouping of nerve fibres formed from the axons of ganglion cells that transmit visual information towards the lateral geniculate nucleus.

The optic nerve contains around a million fibres and transports the continuous stream of data that arrives from rods, cones and interneurons (bipolar, amacrine cells). The optic nerve is a parallel communication cable that enables every fibre to represent distinct information about the presence of light in each region of the visual field.

Caption

Optic chiasm

The optic chiasm is the part of the brain where the optic nerves partially cross. It is located at the bottom of the brain immediately below the hypothalamus.

The cross-over of optic nerve fibres at the optic chiasm allows the visual cortex to receive the same hemispheric visual field from both eyes. Superimposing and processing these monocular visual signals allows the visual cortex to generate binocular and stereoscopic vision.

So, the right visual cortex receives the temporal visual field of the left eye, and the nasal visual field of the right eye, which results in the right visual cortex producing a binocular image of the left hemispheric visual field. The net result of optic nerves crossing over at the optic chiasm is for the right cerebral hemisphere to sense and process left-hemispheric vision, and for the left cerebral hemisphere to sense and process right-hemispheric vision.

Caption [Hemispheric visual field diagram]

Lateral geniculate nucleus

The lateral geniculate nucleus is a relay centre on the visual pathway from the eyeball to the brain. It receives sensory input from the retina via the axons of ganglion cells.

The thalamus which houses the lateral geniculate nucleus is a small structure within the brain, located just above the brain stem between the cerebral cortex and the midbrain with extensive nerve connections to both.

The lateral geniculate nucleus is the central connection for the optic nerve to the occipital lobe of the brain, particularly the primary visual cortex.

Both the left and right hemispheres of the brain have a lateral geniculate nucleus.

There are three major cell types in the lateral geniculate nucleus which connect to three distinct types of ganglion cells:

  • P ganglion cells send axons to the parvocellular layer of the lateral geniculate nucleus.
  • M ganglion cells send axons to the magnocellular layer.
  • K ganglion cells send axons to a koniocellular layer.

The lateral geniculate nucleus specialises in calculations based on the information it receives from both the eyes and from the brain. Calculations include resolving temporal and spatial correlations between different inputs. This means that things can be organised in terms of the sequence of events over time and the spatial relationship of things within the overall field of view.

Some of the correlations deal with signals received from one eye but not the other. Some deal with the left and right semi-fields of view captured by both eyes. As a result, they help to produce a three-dimensional representation of the field of view of an observer.

  • The outputs of the lateral geniculate nucleus serve several functions. Some are directed towards the eyes, others are directed towards the brain.
  • A signal is provided to control the vergence of the two eyes so they converge at the principal plane of interest in object-space at any particular moment.
  • Computations within the lateral geniculate nucleus determine the position of every major element in object-space relative to the observer. The motion of the eyes enables a larger stereoscopic mapping of the visual field to be achieved.
  • A tag is provided for each major element in the central field of view of object-space. The accumulated tags are attached to the features in the merged visual fields and are forwarded to the primary visual cortex.
  • Another tag is provided for each major element in the visual field describing the velocity of the major elements based on changes in position over time. The velocity tags (particularly those associated with the peripheral field of view) are also used to determine the direction the organism is moving relative to object-space.

Caption

Optic radiation

The optic radiations are tracts formed from the axons of neurons located in the lateral geniculate nucleus and lead to areas within the primary visual cortex. There is an optic radiation on each side of the brain. They carry visual information through lower and upper divisions to their corresponding cerebral hemisphere.

Caption

Primary visual cortex

The visual cortex of the brain is part of the cerebral cortex and processes visual information. It is in the occipital lobe at the back of the head.

Visual information coming from the eyes goes through the lateral geniculate nucleus within the thalamus and then continues towards the point where it enters the brain. The point where the visual cortex receives sensory inputs is also the point where there is a vast expansion in the number of neurons.

Both cerebral hemispheres contain a visual cortex. The visual cortex in the left hemisphere receives signals from the right visual field, and the visual cortex in the right hemisphere receives signals from the left visual field.

Caption [Cerebral hmispheres, occipital lobes, primary visual cortex, optical radiations]

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Welcome

KIA ORA FROM AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND


Thank you for dropping by. We hope you will take this opportunity to look around and see how the site is developing. It’s work in progress!

We launched lightcolourvision.org at the end of May 2019 with a public event and fundraiser. Our current focus is on developing the layout, adding features and uploading resources. So, please note that we have a lot more information and images to add and more work to do on the design.

The aim of this project is to provide clear and concise information about light, colour and vision and . . . how to see more! The site has been designed as an educational resource with students, educators and researchers of all ages in mind.

Users may be writing essays, developing presentations or preparing their own resources. Others may use the site to check facts or simply to improve their understanding of the topics we cover.

The Article Library contains a series of essays designed to provide introductions to light, colour, vision and the idea of learning how to see more. Each article introduces the terms and concepts needed to make sense of each topic and then builds a concise overview that avoids confusing detail. Visitors will find that each article is laid out as a series of illustrated pages.

The articles are intended for anyone who is finding it difficult to make sense of light, colour, vision and the connections between them. The problem that many of our visitors are faced with is that light, colour and vision are subjects of enquiry that are explored by specialised communities who often do not write about their work with a general readership in mind or explain how their particular interests relate to general experience. So, the approach we take is to connect everything back to everyday language and common sense.

The Resources Library already contains over 100 slides and diagrams. Each image is presented on its own page and is accompanied by a full explanation. Every page also contains links to our extensive glossary which is designed for visitors who come across unfamiliar terms or need more information. All images are free to download but donations are always much appreciated. Downloads are available in commonly used file formats.

Before completing the download process visitors are asked to agree to our terms and conditions which stipulate that all articles and images on lightcolourvision.org are covered by copyright and made available solely and exclusively for personal, educational and non-profit purposes.


Like to know more?

Please contact [email protected] if you have questions about any aspect of this project.

Or you can use this FEEDBACK FORM.

And please let us know if you are interested in getting involved and helping to develop the site.

You can also SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER here.

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Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ’s


Is the website still under development?

Yes! We launched the site earlier this year (2019) with a party and crowdfunding campaign but new material is being added all the time.


Can I use the written material I find on the website in my own educational assignments and presentations?

Yes! You are free to use written resources you find on this website for personal and educational purposes.

All material on the site is copyright so there are simple rules to follow.

If you want to cut and paste anything into your own project or assignments then the main thing is to avoid plagiarism by crediting the authors of the material you use.

Read these two articles for more information: Copyright: Credit where credit’s due and Citation and bibliographies.


Can I use the diagrams and images I find on the website in my own educational assignments and presentations?

Yes! You can download all the images you find on this website free of charge for personal and educational purposes.

All material on the site is copyright so there are simple rules to follow.

If you want to download images and use them in your own project or assignments then the main thing is to avoid plagiarism by crediting the authors of the material you use.

Read these two articles for more information: Copyright: Credit where credit’s due and Citation and bibliographies.


How do I find images?

Do any of the following:

Navigate directly to the Image Library and look for the images you need.

Search the whole site using the “Search Site” at the foot of each page using obvious keywords.

Another approach is to look through the articles in the Articles Library and follow the links whenever you see an image you want.


Like to know more?

Please contact [email protected] if you have questions about any aspect of this project.

Or you can use this FEEDBACK FORM.

And please let us know if you are interested in getting involved and helping to develop the site.

You can also SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER here.

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Lightcolourvision’s aims

OUR AIMS


If you are interested in getting your head around what the lightcolourvision.org website is about then read on. Here is a summary of our primary aims.


We are a non-profit group dedicated to the education of future generations and to a vision of sustainable growth of all forms of life on planet earth. It is an image of caring for each other and our world.

We are committed to responding to the call for people to make web content that is rich and relevant; to build communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity, and to fight for an open web that is a global public resource for people everywhere.

We are creating a resource at lightcolourvision.org that celebrates the common ground that binds human beings together in ways that we hope everyone can identify with.

 
We have created lightcolourvision.org as an empowering resource for students, educators and researchers of all ages who share our interest and concern for the lives and education of future generations.
 

Our core aim is to explore the human experience of light, colour, vision, what it means, and how we might learn to see more.

We are creating an educational resource for students, educators and researchers of all kinds that explores the concepts of light, colour, vision and how to see more.

We are creating a comprehensive library of articles that provides easily accessible information on a wide range of topics related to the concepts of light, colour and vision.

We are creating an accompanying library of images that share consistent design and graphic detailing and provides easily accessible information on a wide range of topics related to the concepts of light, colour and vision.

We aim to organise the content of our website in a way that assists users to efficiently design and implement their own visions, projects and assignments.

We aim to make all images on the site available for download in file formats suited to a wide range of applications.

We rely on the support of our partners, patrons, sponsors, supporters and users for realising these aims.


Like to know more?

Please contact [email protected] if you have questions about any aspect of this project.

Or you can use this FEEDBACK FORM.

And please let us know if you are interested in getting involved and helping to develop the site.

You can also SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER here.

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All about our libraries

ALL ABOUT OUR THREE LIBRARIES


We hope you find useful resources here at lightcolourvision.org to help you develop your own projects and assignments.

Everything on the site is organised into an Article Library, a Resource library and a Reference Library.

ARTICLE LIBRARY

We will soon have a suite of articles covering light, colour and vision in this library. Visit the Article library now to see which titles are available to date.

Each article is in the form of an illustrated essay and aims to provide a gentle introduction to an aspect of one of our core topics.

Visitors will find that all the articles are organised under a series of sub-heading which break them down into digestible chunks.

The articles and illustrations are all available for download in commonly used file types.

ABOUT READING ARTICLES

Now here is some advice for visitors who are reading the articles for the first time and feeling a feel a little overwhelmed!

Download the article you plan to study. Its easier to work with than flicking around web pages.

Be kind to your self. Allow plenty of time to get to know new terms and concepts.

Look up unfamiliar words as you go along.

Cut and paste important points into your own notes.

Work backwards and forwards between the images and the text. They say an image is worth a thousand words!

Look for the key ideas first. You can add more detail later.

Never give up on new ideas. Just keep going. Eventually the unfamiliar becomes familiar and things that initially seem complicated become more straightforward.

Sleep on it! It’s amazing how we digest new ideas during a good nights sleep.

RESOURCE LIBRARY

Our Resource Library is for students, educators and researches of all ages looking for information about light, colour, vision and how to see more. Visit the Resource Library now to see the topics covered to date.

Visitors will find that each page of the library deals with a different subject such as Features of Electromagnetic Waves. The pages are laid out as follows:

  1. A diagram providing key information. All diagrams use the same graphic conventions to make them as memorable as possible.
  2. A dialogue box for selecting download options for the diagrams.
  3. A question and answer section where visitors can check out their general knowledge.
  4. An introduction to the diagram with point-by-point explanations.
  5. A summary of all the key terms used on the page.
  6. Additional information on how to use the resources on the page.

Diagrams can be downloaded in SVG, JPEG and AI format.

The AI format (Adobe Illustrator) allows users to edit the images for their own purposes.

The SVG format is ideal for viewing images in a browser and so is ideal for creating presentations.

The JPEG format makes it easy to place or paste diagrams into essays and assignments. All diagrams are exactly the same width which means they will maintain a consistent size when used in essays. They appear at their best when allowed to run right across the page from margin to margin.

Any text on the website can be cut and pasted into your own notes. Read our posts about Copyright and our Guide to Citations for more information. (A citation is a reference to a book, article, web page, or other published item that you add to your work so people know where information comes from).

REFERENCE LIBRARY

The easiest way to use the Reference Library is to follow the links embedded in the text of articles and pages in the Resource Library.

When you click on a link it opens a new tab in your browser with displays a definition and explanation of a term.


Like to know more?

Please contact [email protected] if you have questions about any aspect of this project.

Or you can use this FEEDBACK FORM.

And please let us know if you are interested in getting involved and helping to develop the site.

You can also SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER here.

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Why explore light, colour and vision

WHY EXPLORE LIGHT, COLOUR, VISION AND HOW TO SEE MORE


LIGHT! Without light we see nothing! Without light, our eyes can not function at all! It is the fact that our eyes respond to light that allows us to gather the information needed to not only see colour but also to make sense of the world. Light has existed since the beginning of time and will still fill the universe long after planet Earth and its inhabitants are forgotten.

COLOUR! If human beings and related species were all to disappear overnight, the world would still be full of light but there would be no colour. Colour is an artefact of human vision, something that only exists for living things like ourselves. Colour is what we see in the presence of light.

VISION! Visual perception is the human ability to see and interpret our surrounding. It results from the sensitivity of our eyes to wavelengths of light corresponding to all the colours we see between red and violet. Visual perception is associated with eyesight but also usually refers to the brain’s ability to make sense of what our eyes see.

HOW TO SEE MORE! When we look more closely at things, we see them afresh and make new discoveries. A careful look at the most familiar everyday situation can reveal unnoticed qualities or a new perspective. Seeing more may involve more than looking closely, sometimes we need to stand back to get a new perspective on things. To see more involves looking beyond jaded perspectives and outmoded assumptions and imaginatively challenging our existing knowledge, experience and assumptions about ourselves and the world.

LIGHT, COLOUR, VISION AND HOW TO SEE MORE are the four core concepts that we have been exploring since late 2015 and which continue to be central to the development of this website. Over time we hope the resources we are developing will become an important source of information and discussion on how these three topics shape our lives and our understanding of the world.

At lightcolourvision.org we are developing resources that delve into the extraordinary connections between these concepts. We are exploring many different dimensions of our everyday experience. We are searching for straightforward explanations and insights into why the world appears as it does.

Follow this link to explore the library of articles we are developing.

Follow this link to explore the library of images that are already available for download.

Anytime you find a blue link embedded in the text, follow it to find out more.


Like to know more?

Please contact [email protected] if you have questions about any aspect of this project.

Or you can use this FEEDBACK FORM.

And please let us know if you are interested in getting involved and helping to develop the site.

You can also SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER here.

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Understanding copyright

UNDERSTANDING COPYRIGHT: CREDIT WHERE CREDIT’S DUE


Respecting the creative efforts and copyright of other authors and artists is an important issue when downloading or cutting and pasting material from the web.

This post looks at how to acknowledge other people’s copyright when building your own projects, essays or presentations. The next post, A Guide to Citations and Bibliographies, looks at how to use citations and bibliographies when submitting work to a school, college or university that includes copyright material.

Here is a summary of our own approach.

Visitors to lightcolourvision.org will find short quotes and the odd image within our articles, explanations and references that have been sourced from websites and other publications during our research process. The aim is to produce our own content on a wide range of topics that is as accurate and up to date as possible. Sometimes other people’s ideas are buried in our writing and often this material is covered by copyright.

Let’s look at how other people’s work is acknowledged and their rights protected at lightcolourvision.org.

Best practice lets readers know where ideas and information come from. We use in-text citations or add references at the bottom of a page.

An in-text citation usually looks like this (Author, 2000, p. 10) or like this (Name of website, 2000) and each citation is linked to full bibliographic references so that readers can accurately identify sources. When a reference is to another website, another link can be included so that readers can see things in their original context.

With all this in mind, we have established the following guidelines for ourselves.

Referencing texts:

  1. In-text citations and full bibliographic references are provided wherever possible.
  2. All material that appears on the site takes the form of brief extracts and is used in a manner consistent with the doctrine of fair use.
  3. Extracts and quotes are used on the site solely for the purposes of teaching, scholarship, research, criticism and comment.
  4. All our articles and other written material is free to download.
  5. Owners of Copyright material with any concerns about how their work is used on the lightcolourvision.org website are encouraged to get in touch with us using the contact information provided below.

Referencing images:

  1. Copyright notices and full bibliographic information are appended to all images.
  2. All images that appear on the Lightcolourvision.org website (including those authored by lightcolourvision.org contributors) have a Creative Commons license or Public copyright license.
  3. All our images are free to download.
  4. A Creative Commons license protects people who use or redistribute an author’s work from concerns over copyright infringement as long as they abide by the conditions that are specified in the license.

Like to know more?

Please contact [email protected] if you have questions about any aspect of this project.

Or you can use this FEEDBACK FORM.

And please let us know if you are interested in getting involved and helping to develop the site.

You can also SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER here.

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Citations and bibliographies

CITATIONS AND BIBLIOGRAPHIES: A PRACTICAL GUIDE


An in-text citation is where we reference the originating author and the publication details for the quote or image we use in the body of our essay.

A bibliographic reference is where we provide full information on the originating author and publication at the end of an essay etc. Each reference in a bibliography corresponds with an in-text citation and is listed alphabetically.

The previous post Credit Where Credit’s Due! explained how we deal with copyright and respect the creative efforts of other authors and artists at lightcolourvision.org. The issue that affects anyone who is submitting work to a school, college or university or preparing work for publication. This post provides a practical guide to citations and bibliographies and covers the question of how they should be styled.

Referencing, as it is called, deals with three important issues that have to be addressed when writing an essay or preparing work that is going to be submitted for academic assessment or published.

  • The first is to avoid plagiarism.
  • The second is to let readers know that a section of text (or other content like a diagram or data table) contains material that is not our own original work.
  • The third is to let them know where the material or ideas come from and provide details about the source using in-text citations and references.

PLAGIARISM

According to page 23 of the Bachelor’s Degree Handbook of the University of Washington “plagiarism occurs whenever someone uses the ideas or writings of another as their own without giving due credit”. Copy this quote into a search engine and it will take you to https://depts.washington.edu/pswrite/plag.html.

IN-TEXT CITATIONS AND REFERENCES

So what is the best way to reference other people’s work in our own writing? The fact is, many academic institutions would not be happy with the style used above to credit the work of the University of Washington’s Committee on Academic Conduct. It’s too random!

CHOOSING A STYLE

So when an academic institution or publisher asks for references and bibliography to be in APA Style, they are talking about using a consistent and recognisable style. Other commonly used styles that might be required include MLA (Modern Language Association) and Chicago/Turabian.

APA STYLING

The APA Style covers everything from punctuation, abbreviations, tables, statistics, to citations and references. The style was developed by the American Psychological Association but is now used by writers, editors and publishers around the world.

The APA’s style guidelines are set out in a reference book called The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

At lightcolourvision.org we consistently use the APA style for formatting all in-text citations and bibliographic references. This allows visitors to quickly and efficiently find credits and, where relevant, to paste citations and references into their own work in a consistent format. Please note however that when cutting and pasting the spacing and indents need to be applied manually.

Remember to check on which style your school, college or university uses.

How to style short quotations using APA style

The APA style for short quotations of fewer than 40 words should be enclosed by double quotation marks.

    • Provide the author, year, and specific page on which the quote was found in your citation, and include a complete reference in the reference list.
    • Question and exclamation marks should appear within the quotation marks if they are part of the quotation.
    • Don’t use quotation marks when paraphrasing a quote. But when paraphrasing the in-line citation should still be included. Paraphrasing is generally preferred over rambling quotes or content which is off-point.

How to style longer quotations

The APA style for longer quotations of more than 40 words should be presented in a freestanding block of type. In this case quotation marks are not required.

    • This style of quotation starts on a new line and the whole block is indented five spaces from the left margin and lines are double spaced.
    • The first line of new paragraphs within the quotation is indented five more spaces.
    • The citation comes immediately after the closing punctuation mark.

What in-text citations look like

Here are two examples of what in-text citations might look like:

Example: “Quoted material from a book or journal goes in quotation marks. Then the citation follows and finally the full stop” (Author, 2006, p. 52).

Example: “Quoted material from a website goes in quotation marks. Then the citation follows and finally the full stop” (Name of website, 2006).

APA styling requires a shortened version of the relevant information to appear in the in-line citation and the complete reference to be added to the reference list which appears at the end of the document or as an appendix.

The citation appears at the end of the sentence before the full stop. The following examples illustrate how this first instance of a citation should be formatted in the case of books and are shown with the correct punctuation:Example: (Author, 2000, p. 200). – One author

Example: (1st Author & 2nd, 2000, p. – 200). – Two authors

Example: (1st Author, 2nd, 3rd, 4th & 5th Author, 2000, p. 200). – Three to five authors

Example: (1st Author, et al. 2000, p. 200). – Six and more authors

If you quote again from the same work then subsequent instances of the citation appear as shown by the following examples:
Author (2000) compared editing styles . . .

Example: In a recent study of editing styles (Author, 2000) . . .

Example: In 2000, Author compared editing styles . . .

As you can see in-line citations don’t use an author’s initials.
When citing in-text, if the author’s names are in brackets, use the & symbol. Otherwise, use and before the last author’s name.
If a quote by another author appears within a book that you have already cited then this is described as being a secondary source.

Example: . . . as cited in Author, 2000, p. 200.

Copyright statements for images

APA styling requires a copyright statement for tables and other kinds of images. If the image is a table, the copyright statement goes at the end of the table note (in the bottom row) or caption where the purpose of the table is explained. If the image is anything else, it is considered to be a figure and the copyright statement goes at the end of the figure caption. In the case of PowerPoint presentations, the statement goes at the bottom of the slide in which the image appears.

Templates for bibliographic reference lists

References to quotes
Book, report, brochure, or audiovisual mediaAuthor, A. A. (Year of Publication). Title of work: Capital letter also for subtitle. Location: Publisher.

For “Location,” you should always list the city, but you should also include the state or country if the city is unfamiliar could be confused with another

Article in a periodicalAuthor, A. A., Author, B. B., & Author, C. C. (Year of Publication, add month and day of publication for daily, weekly, or monthly publications). Title of article. Title of periodical, Volume Number, pages.

Periodicals include journals, newspapers, or magazines.

You need list only the volume number if the periodical uses continuous pagination throughout a particular volume.

If each issue begins with page 1, then you should list the issue number as well: Title of Periodical, Volume (Issue), pages

WebpageAuthor, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of Publication or Revision). Title of full work [online]. Retrieved month, day, year, from source Web site: URL.
Online journal or magazineAuthor, A. A., & Author, B. B. (Date of Publication). Title of article. Title of periodical, xx, xxx-xxx. Retrieved month, day, year, from URL.
References to images
Image found in a bookFrom [or Adapted from/Data in column 1 are from] Title of Book (any edition or volume information, p. xxx), by A. N. Author and C. O. Author, year, Place of Publication: Publisher. Copyright [year] by Name of Copyright Holder. Reprinted [or Adapted] with permission.

The words “Reprinted [or Adapted] with permission” are only included where permission has been granted.

Image found in a journalFrom [or Adapted from/Data in column 1 are from] “Title of Article,” by A. N. Author and C. O. Author, year, Title of Journal, Volume, p. xx. Copyright [year] by Name of Copyright Holder. Reprinted [or Adapted] with permission.
Image found in an edited chapter of a bookFrom [or Adapted from/Data in column 1 are from] “Title of Chapter,” by A. N. Author and C. O. Author, in A. N. Editor (Ed.), Title of Book (any edition or volume information, p. xxx), year, Place of Publication: Publisher. Copyright [year] by Name of Copyright Holder. Reprinted [or Adapted] with permission.
Image found on a websiteFrom [or Adapted from/Data in column 1 are from] “Title of Web Document,” by A. N. Author and C. O. Author, year (http://URL). Copyright [year] by Name of Copyright Holder. Reprinted [or Adapted] with permission.
Image found in a journalFrom [or Adapted from/Data in column 1 are from] “Title of Article,” by A. N. Author and C. O. Author, year, Title of Journal, Volume, p. xx. Copyright [year] by Name of Copyright Holder. Reprinted [or Adapted] with permission.

About bibliographic reference lists

The first line of each entry in a reference list should be on the left margin. Subsequent lines should be indented five spaces from the margin.
All references should be double-spaced and each entry should be separated from the next by a double space.
Capitalize only the first word of a title or subtitle of a work. Italicize titles of books and journals.
Authors’ names are inverted (last name first); Provide the last name and initials for all authors of a particular work.
Your reference list should be alphabetized by authors’ last names. If no author is given for a particular source, alphabetize by the title of the piece.


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Before downloading or cutting and pasting from lightcolourvision.org we ask you to agree to the following terms:

  1. All information, images and other assets displayed or made available for download on the lightcolourvision.org website are copyright. This means there are limitations on how they can be used.
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If you are a student, educator or researcher you might also like to read our posts Copyright: Credit where credit’s due and Citation and bibliographies before copying and pasting material into essays, assignments or other academic work. They include advice on avoiding plagiarism and how to credit other people’s words, images and assets before submitting your work for marking or assessment. If you are confused, just ask a friendly teacher, librarian, or another member of academic staff.


Like to know more?

Please contact [email protected] if you have questions about any aspect of this project.

Or you can use this FEEDBACK FORM.

And please let us know if you are interested in getting involved and helping to develop the site.

You can also SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER here.