Chapter 2 Summary
1. This chapter provided some insight into the complex journey that is required for
us to see stars and other spots of light. The path of the light was traced from a
distant star through the eyeball and to its absorption by photoreceptors and its
transduction into neural signals. In subsequent chapters we’ll learn how those
signals are transmitted to the brain and translated into the experience of
2. Light, on its way to becoming a sensation (a visual sensation, that is), can be
absorbed, scattered, reflected, transmitted, or refracted. It can become a sensation
only when it’s absorbed by a photoreceptor in the retina.
3. Vision begins in the retina, when light is absorbed by rods or cones. The retina is
like a minicomputer that transduces light energy into neural energy.
4. Retinal ganglion cells have center–surround receptive fields and are concerned
with changes in contrast (the difference in intensity between adjacent bits of the
5. The retina sends information to the brain via the ganglion cells; neurons whose
axons make up the optic nerves.
6. The visual system deals with large variations in overall light intensity by (a)
regulating the amount of light entering the eyeball, (b) using different types of
photoreceptors in different situations, and (c) effectively throwing away photons
we don’t need.
7. Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a family of hereditary diseases characterized by the
progressive death of photoreceptors and degeneration of the pigment epithelium.
In the most common form of the disease, patients first notice vision problems in
their peripheral vision and under low light conditions, situations in which rods
play the dominant role in collecting light.
Chapter 2 Study Questions
A Little Light Physics
1. Describe the two ways used to conceptualize light.
2. Describe the difference between light that is reflected and light that is transmitted.
1. One way is to think of it as a wave that travels through a medium. Another is to
think of it as a stream of photons, tiny particles, each consisting of one quantum
2. Reflected light occurs when a ray of light strikes a light-colored surface and then
bounces back towards its point of origin. Transmitted light occurs when light is
neither reflected nor absorbed by a surface. An example is a transparent window;
light passes through the surface and is transmitted to the other side.
Eyes That See Light
3. What is the purpose of the cornea?
The cornea is a transparent surface on the exterior of the eye. It protects the eye from
the outside world. Being transparent, it allows light to be transmitted through it and
into the eye.
4. What is the purpose of the retina?
The retina is a light-sensitive membrane in the back of the eye that contains rods and
cones, which receive an image from the lens and send it to the brain through the optic
5. How does the process of accommodation take place in the eye?
Accommodation takes place in the lens of the eye. The lens changes its refractive
power by changing its shape. This causes the eye to be able to focus on a given object,
whether it is near or far.
6. What is astigmatism and how can it be fixed?
Astigmatism is a visual defect caused by the unequal curving of one or more of the
refractive surfaces of the eye, usually the cornea. It can be fixed by wearing lenses
that have two focal points (that provide different amounts of focusing power in the
horizontal and vertical planes).
7. Why are photoreceptors important in the process of seeing?
Photoreceptors are the cells that make up the backmost layer of the retina. They are
sensitive to light, and as soon as they sense it, they can cause neurons in the
intermediate layers to fire action potentials. Photoreceptors are important in the
process of seeing because they transduce the physical energy of light into neural
energy that our brains can analyze
Retinal Information Processing
8. What are rods and cones?
Rods and cones are photoreceptors present in the retina. Rods are specialized for
night vision, while cones are specialized for daylight vision, fine visual acuity, and
9. Explain what happens in the process of hyperpolarization.
Hyperpolarization is an increase in membrane potential in where the inner
membrane surface becomes more negative than the outer membrane surface. This
process is one in a sequence of events that occur once light is sensed by the
10. Why can’t rods signal differences in color?
Rods cannot signal differences in color because they only have one type of
photopigment. Cones, on the other hand, have three types of photopigments,
which help them differentiate between colors.
11. What is the role of horizontal cells?
Horizontal cells are specialized retinal cells that contact both photoreceptors and
bipolar cells. They produce lateral inhibition, which allows the signals that reach
retinal ganglion cells to be based on differences in activations between nearby
photoreceptors rather than absolute levels of activation.
12. What is visual acuity?
Visual acuity is a measure of the finest detail that one can resolve.
13. What is the difference between an “ON” midget bipolar cell and an “OFF” midget
An “ON” midget bipolar cell is a small cone bipolar cell that depolarizes in
response to an increase in light intensity. An “OFF” midget bipolar cell is a small
cone bipolar cell that depolarizes in response to a decrease in light intensity.
These two cells have opposite reactions to light.
14. What is a receptive field?
A receptive field is the region on the retina in which stimuli will activate a neuron.
Receptive fields vary in size, shape, and complexity.
15. Why is the center–surround organization of retinal ganglion cells so important?
The center–surround organization of retinal ganglion cells is important because it
allows for sensitivity to contrast rather than absolute illumination levels. Ganglion
cells are most sensitive to differences in the intensity of light in the center and in
the surround, and they are relatively unaffected by the average intensity of light.
This is useful because the average intensity of light falling on the retina will be
quite variable, depending on whether the observer is indoors, outdoors, etc., but
contrasts of light are relatively constant.
16. What is a filter and how is it important in vision?
A filter is an acoustic, electrical, electronic, biological, or optical device,
instrument, or computer program that allows the passage of some frequencies or
Chapter 2 summary: this chapter provided some insight into the complex journey that is required for us to see stars and other spots of light. The path of the light was traced from a distant star through the eyeball and to its absorption by photoreceptors and its transduction into neural signals. It can become a sensation only when it"s absorbed by a photoreceptor in the retina: vision begins in the retina, when light is absorbed by rods or cones. In the most common form of the disease, patients first notice vision problems in their peripheral vision and under low light conditions, situations in which rods play the dominant role in collecting light. A little light physics: describe the two ways used to conceptualize light, describe the difference between light that is reflected and light that is transmitted. Answers: one way is to think of it as a wave that travels through a medium.