Of all the senses, vision is perhaps the most fundamental to our interactions with the world. Roughly a quarter of the brain is involved in visual processing—more than nature allocates to any other sense—and references to vision also permeate our speech.
"Look," we say when we're trying to underscore a point. "I see," we say when we want to express understanding. Someone with a deep grasp of something is insightful, and someone with imagination has vision.
But when it comes to the actual sense of sight, there is a lot that we don't yet understand. What scientists do know is that we don't "see" with our eyes; we actually "see" with our brains. Vision begins with the formation of an image on the back of the eye, which is translated into a cascade of nerve impulses sending signals deep into the brain. It is here, in the brain's visual cortex, which resides in the occipital lobe at the back of the skull, that these signals are interpreted and give rise to perception.
Scientists at the Salk Institute study different stages of visual processing to understand how our brains gather and process meaningful information about our environment. Ultimately, they would like to understand the participating neuronal networks in such intricate detail that they will be able to draw a "wiring diagram" of the brain, a prerequisite to intervening in diseases that diminish or destroy vision.
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