Abstract

It is shown that the absorption of one quantum can excite a rod in the human retina, but that at least two, and probably many more, excited rods are needed to give a sensation of light. It is suggested that noise in the optic pathway limits its sensitivity, and this idea is subjected to an experimental test. The hypothesis is then formulated quantitatively, and shown to be able to account for the above experiment, and also the disagreement in the literature between those who believe that the absorption of two quanta can cause a sensation, and those who believe that 5 or more are required. The formulation of the hypothesis is used to calculate the maximum allowable noise (expressed as a number x of random, independent events confusable with the absorption of a quantum of light) in the optic pathway for the absorption of various fractions of the total number of quanta incident at the cornea.

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  1. E. J. Denton and J. H. Wyllie, J. Physiol. 127, 81–89 (1955).
  2. W. A. Hagins and W. A. H. Rushton, J. Physiol. 120, 61P (1953).
  3. W. A. H. Rushton, the density of rhodopsin in a human rod is about 0.12; personal communication (1955).
  4. F. D. Collins and R. A. Morton, Biochem J. 47, 3–24 (1950).
  5. Wald, Durell, and St. George, Science 111, 179–181 (1950).
  6. W. A. Hagins, J. Physiol. 128, 22–23P (1955).
  7. (a)H. L. de Vries, Physica 10, 553–564 (1943). (b) M. H. Pirenne, "Quantum physics of vision: theoretical discussion," in Progress in Biophysics, edited by J. A. V. Butler and J. T. Randall (Pergamon Press, 1951, London), Vol. 2, pp. 193–223.
  8. R. A. Weale, Physiol. Rev. 35, 233–246 (1955).
  9. F. Crescitelli and H. J. A. Dartnall, Nature 172, 195–197 (1953).
  10. F. W. Campbell and W. A. H. Rushton, J. Physiol. 130, 131–147 (1955).
  11. Granit, Holmberg, and Zewi, J. Physiol. 94, 430–440 (1938).
  12. M. H. Pirenne and F. H. C. Marriott, J. Opt. Soc. Am. 45, 909–912 (1955).
  13. Hecht, Shlaer, and Pirenne, J. Gen. Physiol. 25, 819–840 (1942).
  14. H. A. van der Velden, Physica 11, 179–189 (1944); Ophthalmologica 111, 321–331 (1946).
  15. M. A. Bouman and H. A. van der Velden, J. Opt. Soc. Am. 37, 908–919 (1947).
  16. E. J. Denton and M. H. Pirenne, J. Physiol. 123, 417–442 (1954).
  17. H. B. Barlow, J. Physiol. 119, 69–87 (1953).
  18. G. S. Brindley, Proc. Phys. Soc. (London) B67, 673–676 (1954).
  19. (a) S. Hecht, "Energy and vision," in Science in Progress, (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1945), Ser. 4, pp. 75–97. (b) M. H. Pirenne, Biol. Revs. Cambridge Phil Soc. (to be published).
  20. A. Rose, J. Opt. Soc. Am. 38, 196–208 (1948).
  21. R. L. Gregory and V. Cane, Nature (to be published).
  22. W. P. Tanner and J. A. Swets, "Human use of information. I. Signal detection for the case of the signal known exactly," Trans. Inst. Radio Engrs. PGIT 4, pp. 213–221 (1954).
  23. R. Granit, Acta Physiol. Scand. 1, 370–379 (1941).
  24. Barlow, FitzHugh, and Kuffler, J. Physiol. 125, 28–29P (1954).
  25. Barlow, FitzHugh, and Kuffler (to be published).
  26. E. C. Molina, Poisson's Exponential Binomial Limit (D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., New York, 1942).
  27. C. H. Graham and R. Margaria, Am. J. Physiol. 113, 299–305 (1935).
  28. R. J. Lythgoe and J. P. Quilliam, J. Physiol. 93, 24–38 (1938).

1954 (1)

W. P. Tanner and J. A. Swets, "Human use of information. I. Signal detection for the case of the signal known exactly," Trans. Inst. Radio Engrs. PGIT 4, pp. 213–221 (1954).

Barlow, H. B.

H. B. Barlow, J. Physiol. 119, 69–87 (1953).

Bouman, M. A.

M. A. Bouman and H. A. van der Velden, J. Opt. Soc. Am. 37, 908–919 (1947).

Brindley, G. S.

G. S. Brindley, Proc. Phys. Soc. (London) B67, 673–676 (1954).

Campbell, F. W.

F. W. Campbell and W. A. H. Rushton, J. Physiol. 130, 131–147 (1955).

Cane, V.

R. L. Gregory and V. Cane, Nature (to be published).

Collins, F. D.

F. D. Collins and R. A. Morton, Biochem J. 47, 3–24 (1950).

Crescitelli, F.

F. Crescitelli and H. J. A. Dartnall, Nature 172, 195–197 (1953).

Dartnall, H. J. A.

F. Crescitelli and H. J. A. Dartnall, Nature 172, 195–197 (1953).

de Vries, H. L.

(a)H. L. de Vries, Physica 10, 553–564 (1943). (b) M. H. Pirenne, "Quantum physics of vision: theoretical discussion," in Progress in Biophysics, edited by J. A. V. Butler and J. T. Randall (Pergamon Press, 1951, London), Vol. 2, pp. 193–223.

Denton, E. J.

E. J. Denton and J. H. Wyllie, J. Physiol. 127, 81–89 (1955).

E. J. Denton and M. H. Pirenne, J. Physiol. 123, 417–442 (1954).

Graham, C. H.

C. H. Graham and R. Margaria, Am. J. Physiol. 113, 299–305 (1935).

Granit, R.

R. Granit, Acta Physiol. Scand. 1, 370–379 (1941).

Gregory, R. L.

R. L. Gregory and V. Cane, Nature (to be published).

Hagins, W. A.

W. A. Hagins and W. A. H. Rushton, J. Physiol. 120, 61P (1953).

W. A. Hagins, J. Physiol. 128, 22–23P (1955).

Hecht, S.

(a) S. Hecht, "Energy and vision," in Science in Progress, (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1945), Ser. 4, pp. 75–97. (b) M. H. Pirenne, Biol. Revs. Cambridge Phil Soc. (to be published).

Lythgoe, R. J.

R. J. Lythgoe and J. P. Quilliam, J. Physiol. 93, 24–38 (1938).

Margaria, R.

C. H. Graham and R. Margaria, Am. J. Physiol. 113, 299–305 (1935).

Marriott, F. H. C.

M. H. Pirenne and F. H. C. Marriott, J. Opt. Soc. Am. 45, 909–912 (1955).

Molina, E. C.

E. C. Molina, Poisson's Exponential Binomial Limit (D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., New York, 1942).

Morton, R. A.

F. D. Collins and R. A. Morton, Biochem J. 47, 3–24 (1950).

Pirenne, M. H.

M. H. Pirenne and F. H. C. Marriott, J. Opt. Soc. Am. 45, 909–912 (1955).

E. J. Denton and M. H. Pirenne, J. Physiol. 123, 417–442 (1954).

Quilliam, J. P.

R. J. Lythgoe and J. P. Quilliam, J. Physiol. 93, 24–38 (1938).

Rose, A.

A. Rose, J. Opt. Soc. Am. 38, 196–208 (1948).

Rushton, W. A. H.

F. W. Campbell and W. A. H. Rushton, J. Physiol. 130, 131–147 (1955).

W. A. Hagins and W. A. H. Rushton, J. Physiol. 120, 61P (1953).

W. A. H. Rushton, the density of rhodopsin in a human rod is about 0.12; personal communication (1955).

Swets, J. A.

W. P. Tanner and J. A. Swets, "Human use of information. I. Signal detection for the case of the signal known exactly," Trans. Inst. Radio Engrs. PGIT 4, pp. 213–221 (1954).

Tanner, W. P.

W. P. Tanner and J. A. Swets, "Human use of information. I. Signal detection for the case of the signal known exactly," Trans. Inst. Radio Engrs. PGIT 4, pp. 213–221 (1954).

van der Velden, H. A.

M. A. Bouman and H. A. van der Velden, J. Opt. Soc. Am. 37, 908–919 (1947).

H. A. van der Velden, Physica 11, 179–189 (1944); Ophthalmologica 111, 321–331 (1946).

Weale, R. A.

R. A. Weale, Physiol. Rev. 35, 233–246 (1955).

Wyllie, J. H.

E. J. Denton and J. H. Wyllie, J. Physiol. 127, 81–89 (1955).

Trans. Inst. Radio Engrs. (1)

W. P. Tanner and J. A. Swets, "Human use of information. I. Signal detection for the case of the signal known exactly," Trans. Inst. Radio Engrs. PGIT 4, pp. 213–221 (1954).

Other (27)

R. Granit, Acta Physiol. Scand. 1, 370–379 (1941).

Barlow, FitzHugh, and Kuffler, J. Physiol. 125, 28–29P (1954).

Barlow, FitzHugh, and Kuffler (to be published).

E. C. Molina, Poisson's Exponential Binomial Limit (D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., New York, 1942).

C. H. Graham and R. Margaria, Am. J. Physiol. 113, 299–305 (1935).

R. J. Lythgoe and J. P. Quilliam, J. Physiol. 93, 24–38 (1938).

E. J. Denton and J. H. Wyllie, J. Physiol. 127, 81–89 (1955).

W. A. Hagins and W. A. H. Rushton, J. Physiol. 120, 61P (1953).

W. A. H. Rushton, the density of rhodopsin in a human rod is about 0.12; personal communication (1955).

F. D. Collins and R. A. Morton, Biochem J. 47, 3–24 (1950).

Wald, Durell, and St. George, Science 111, 179–181 (1950).

W. A. Hagins, J. Physiol. 128, 22–23P (1955).

(a)H. L. de Vries, Physica 10, 553–564 (1943). (b) M. H. Pirenne, "Quantum physics of vision: theoretical discussion," in Progress in Biophysics, edited by J. A. V. Butler and J. T. Randall (Pergamon Press, 1951, London), Vol. 2, pp. 193–223.

R. A. Weale, Physiol. Rev. 35, 233–246 (1955).

F. Crescitelli and H. J. A. Dartnall, Nature 172, 195–197 (1953).

F. W. Campbell and W. A. H. Rushton, J. Physiol. 130, 131–147 (1955).

Granit, Holmberg, and Zewi, J. Physiol. 94, 430–440 (1938).

M. H. Pirenne and F. H. C. Marriott, J. Opt. Soc. Am. 45, 909–912 (1955).

Hecht, Shlaer, and Pirenne, J. Gen. Physiol. 25, 819–840 (1942).

H. A. van der Velden, Physica 11, 179–189 (1944); Ophthalmologica 111, 321–331 (1946).

M. A. Bouman and H. A. van der Velden, J. Opt. Soc. Am. 37, 908–919 (1947).

E. J. Denton and M. H. Pirenne, J. Physiol. 123, 417–442 (1954).

H. B. Barlow, J. Physiol. 119, 69–87 (1953).

G. S. Brindley, Proc. Phys. Soc. (London) B67, 673–676 (1954).

(a) S. Hecht, "Energy and vision," in Science in Progress, (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1945), Ser. 4, pp. 75–97. (b) M. H. Pirenne, Biol. Revs. Cambridge Phil Soc. (to be published).

A. Rose, J. Opt. Soc. Am. 38, 196–208 (1948).

R. L. Gregory and V. Cane, Nature (to be published).

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