Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/213

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213
THE EYE AS AN OPTICAL INSTRUMENT.
THE EYE AS AN OPTICAL INSTRUMENT.

By AUSTIN FLINT, M.D., LL. D.,

PROFESSOR OF PHYSIOLOGY IN THE BELLEVUE HOSPITAL MEDICAL COLLEGE, NEW YORK;
VISITING PHYSICIAN TO BELLEVUE HOSPITAL.

I HAVE often wondered whether the statement, occasionally made by physicists, that the human eye is not a perfect optical instrument, is an expression of human vanity or of an imperfect knowledge of the anatomy of the eye and the physiology of vision; and I have come to the conclusion that the latter is the more reasonable theory. The approach to perfection in modern telescopes and microscopes is wonderful indeed; but as physiologists have advanced the knowledge of vision, the so-called imperfections of the eye have been steadily disappearing; and even now there is much to learn. Viewed merely as an optical instrument, an apparatus contained in a globe less than an inch in diameter, in which is produced an image practically perfect in form and color, which can be accurately adjusted almost instantly for every distance from five inches to infinity, is movable in every direction, has an area for the detection of the most minute details and at the same time a sufficient appreciation of large objects, is double, but the images in either eye exactly coinciding, enables us to see all shades of color, estimate distance, solidity, and to some extent the consistence of objects, the normal human eye may well be called perfect. The more, indeed, the eye is studied in detail, the more thoroughly does one appreciate its perfection as an optical apparatus.

Were it not for a slight projection of the cornea (the transparent covering in front) the eye would have nearly the form of a perfect globe a small fraction less than an inch in diameter. It lies in a soft bed of fat, is held in place by little muscles and a ligament which is so lubricated that its movements take place with the minimum of friction. It is protected by an overhanging bony arch and the eyelids, the eyelashes keeping away dust, and the eyebrows directing away the sweat. Situated thus in the orbit, the eyes may be moved to the extent of about forty-five degrees; but beyond this it is necessary to move the head.

The accuracy of vision depends primarily upon the formation of a perfect image upon the retina, which is a membrane, sensitive to light, connected with the optic nerve. That such an image is actually formed has been demonstrated by an instrument, the ophthalmoscope, which enables us to look into the eye and see the image itself. Although the image is inverted, the brain takes no cognizance of this, and every object is appreciated in its actual