Eyes made their first appearance, like so many humanoid features, in the oceans.  As marine life forms rose from the profound depths, they encountered light.  Many responded to this new selection pressure by evolving light detecting sensors.  It is theoretically likely that many did not.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, some silent movie actors made the transition to the “talkies”, and other great silent era stars had unpleasant voices and disappeared.

So, too, some super-deep sea creatures either had the genetic set up to evolve or did not, and the latter vanished from pre-history, or fought their way back down to the deeper submarine ecosystems from where they arose.  Good luck to them.  As I say, many probably didn’t make it.

It’s speculative—but fanciful—to think about the evolution of terrestrial eyes.  As in marine life, the eyes were used to hunt, avoid being hunted and select mates.  Colors were certainly invented by sea creatures in truly wondrous arrays within a range of  qualities of visible light that we do not see on land. Such dispersal and diffusion! The outlandish luminosity of coral life has to be seen to be believed.

Stuck in a hotel room recently, I couldn’t avoid the weird looking HD television.  On it was a great cable show by the Discovery Channel called “planet earth”.  I recommend it.  It’s as close as I’ve seen to a faithful representation of aquatic color, but still not the same. 

It mystifies me that a similar floral and foliar color based documentary hasn’t been done.  Must be all the swimming around that gets the “eyeballs”, as TV industry people describe their ratings.  The swimming sea creatures are so sexy, so beautifully poetic. Maybe if insects danced more often, they could catch the attention of nature documentary makers.  The cameramen should use more slow motion and stop-gap action.  Or perhaps the reason is that people dislike bugs.  Personally, I love them.

Continuing the blog’s meditation theme, I was looked at by my eye doctor, so to speak.  He described the “cup” at the back of my right eye as being more like a “collar” that “holds” strands or “branches” that radiate forward toward the lens—a bit like actual branches of a plant toward the sky—and then pass electrochemical signals (or whatever) through the “collar” back into the brain.  These, his very words, are the same that arborists use.  I was half-expecting him to say “dovetailing” at some point.

Which is “light” in the eye and tree metaphor?  Which end the “roots”?  I leave that to the poets.  However, my doctor’s descriptions were remarkably like those of a tree, though, of course, on its side.  Especially the “collar” part, which is exactly what a trunk is—an extended sort of tubular collar.  Thus, our eyeballs are like horizontal trees.

Many fish have vertical eyes, such as the bottom fish like skates and so forth.  And they definitely look like leaf debris down there on the murky ocean floor, as they gaze skyward.

Speaking of murkiness, I wish to add another thought.  I speculate that one of the contributors to our ultra-sophisticated eyes—and those of our distant ancestors—was the desire for shade.  The very early prehistoric sun must have been horrible, merciless—a bit like the entire world was Death Valley—a horrible place! The ability to spot a patch of shade made the difference between life and death. 

Finally, a friend reminded me recently that Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough, about which so many of us aging baby boomers talked endlessly (at least the goriest parts) in college dormitories, was concerned mainly with plants and trees.  I had forgotten all that.  It is, he said, the point of the title.  Another new bit of botanical insight.

I had never looked at it that way.

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 22nd, 2009 at 11:28 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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16 Responses to “Eyeballs”

  1. Mike Savich said:

    The guy is no writer. He is more boring than the drill of a dentist. He rambles more than the orange slurpy stuff you pour on your watery iceberg salad at the Kozy Korner off Insterstate Numeric Numeric. Think ranch. Add the vowel “u”. Ugh!

  2. George said:

    Dear Mike
    To paraphrase David Byrne, “Please stop making sense”.

  3. Gwen said:

    What planet are you from? Go back and leave us alone.

  4. George said:

    Dear Gwen,

    Interesting question! If you keep up with the scientific literature, molecules are actually mainly “right handed”. Serious scientist have now begun discussing that all of the early precursors to amino acids may have arrived to earth on meteorites. Moving clockwise, as does the earth, this would account for the presence of the relativly few “left handed” molecules, which may then have come from another solar system. So the big question for us, Gwen, might be “Which meteorite are you from”? For information, please see the description of chirality on wikipedia

    Thanks for posting.

  5. mpd said:

    This year we have a plethora of praying mantis 3-4 inches and clouds of butterflies. So many they hit our windshields as we drive along the highways and byways in the country and town alike..milkweed’s seductive signals carrying them along an invisible road to Mexico.

  6. George said:

    Dear mpd,

    Thank you for the lovely and elegant post. Here the mantises are turning sort of bronze colors in their leaves – oops, I mean wings.


  7. j said:

    Great article
    Working in this industry and depending on God, keeps open minds

  8. George said:

    Dear j,

    Thank you so much. You said it just right. Blessed work or, as some once put it, “Drudgery Divine”.

  9. James Golden said:

    Fascinating speculation. The eye as a horizontal tree, its roots neuron in the brain, I suppose. I’ll have to find my copy of The Golden Bough, somewhere in one of those boxes in the basement. Thanks for the connections.

  10. George said:

    Dear James,

    Thank you for another kind post. You keep threatening to visit Fordhook. When? I enjoy you web log very much, especially the recent photographs. Please keep up the excellent work.

  11. Leslie Beck said:

    Bugs, how could one enjoy gardening, love just being outside without being entranced by the beauty, diversity, life cycles and antics of bugs. Growing up in New Mexico we were able to get to know some wonderfully colorful and scary ones.

  12. George said:

    Dear Leslie,

    I occasionally greet my bugs here at the farm these days—that is how close we are becoming.

    Thanks much

  13. Marshall Smyth said:

    Evolution is a very fascinating subject, and the evolution of eyes is one of the amazing topics within the area. The form of a typical tree looks like lines on a phylogeny chart. If it were to be viewed as having a collar around the stems of a phylogeny at various levels, even the pattern of an evolutionary phylogeny could be given better more fully descriptive for the places where standard phylogeny falls apart, such as where endosymbiotic relations merge to a single organism from two. Such as when chloroplasts began growing inside cells, creating the first true plant of any kind known today. This more visually correct phylogeny is therefore even more like a tree or an eye in structure, with the collar included. I thank you for the “wow” that let me see this.

  14. George said:

    Dear Marshall,

    Very fascinating post! You leave me with much to ponder. Please post again.

    Thank you very much.

  15. natureguy said:

    I love to follow this kind of thought that always seems to find some kind of continuity or sense to all of the complexity that nature presents us! I believe that it is really a part of scientific effort to take what is known and blend it into a metaphor of what is unknown! Out of this we develope theories which provide constructs for detailed observations and experiments that when duplicated begin to produce consistant results…and then we move on to the next mystery!!! Does it not make sense that the light sensitive nerve cells as they reach out towards light absorption that is most effective to distribute to a more and more complexly developing brain would find a kind of universal pattern that would be most effective…thus the distribution of the roots of a tree. We could call the roots of the tree of life our eyes and the trunk our brain stem and the many branches, leaves and flowers our brain and all of our senses!


  16. George said:

    Dear natureguy,

    I am not sure, I am still looking into this subject—pardon the pun, please. Maybe light moves in a peculiar way, creating a third or “hybrid” level or type of sight.

    Thanks for posting

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