Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/309

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The Human Eye evolved for Distant Vision

By Professor WALTER D. SCOTT


IN the evolution of the animal organism the sense of touch has served the purpose of informing the individual of objects with which it came in contact. The sense of taste likewise gave information concerning objects upon contact, but of a more specialized form. The sense of smell and that of hearing gave knowledge of objects in the vicinity and in certain instances of objects in the distance. The sense of sight seems to have been preeminently the sense by means of which the individual was enabled to adjust himself to objects at a distance. The enemy to the leeward might approach noiselessly and so could not be smelt or heard. When knowledge of the approach was revealed by the sense of touch it was too late for escape. The preservation of the individual and of the species thus depended upon the ability to see the enemy in the distance. Inasmuch as the function of the eyes has been to perceive objects at a distance rather than at close range, we are not at all surprised to find that the eyes are well adapted for distant vision, but poorly constructed for close work.

When our eyes are at perfect rest, when all the muscles which control them are relaxed, they are then adjusted for distant vision. When, on the other hand, the ciliary muscles and the muscles which move the eyeballs are at a maximum of contraction, then and then only are the eyes adjusted for close vision. Such a structure was admirably adapted to the needs of the primitive organism. The eyes were the sentinels which must always be on guard and when employed in the appropriate way there was no strain. It was of course essential that the individual should be able at times to see objects close at hand. This could be accomplished by means of contractions of delicate muscles, and as soon as the contractions were relieved the eyes were again adjusted for the more important duty of distant vision.

The strain upon the eyes is in adjusting for objects closer than at about four feet, but for all greater distances there is a minimum of strain. Hence we may speak of all objects as being distant which are removed as much as four feet. With this definition of the term distant it is evident that distant vision was the most common form of vision for all our ancestors, from the most primitive forms of life