The mystery behind the superiority of bird eye sight over humans is now more mysterious than ever. Joe Corbo, staring into the eye of a chicken seven years ago, saw something startling carpeting the retina. Rather than randomly distributed color-sensitive cones, like in humans, Corbo observed a uniform distribution of the cones – a pattern previously unrecognized in birds.
Science writer, Natalie Wolchover, in A Bird’s-Eye View of Nature’s Hidden Order published in Quanta Magazine in July reported that while cones were remarkably uniform in distribution, the actual cone locations seemed haphazard. “The dots’ locations followed no discernible rule, yet never seemed too close or too far apart” – a strange mix of bird eye random regularity.
Corbo, associate biological professor at the Washington University in St. Louis, was hooked. The hunt was on to discover what law of nature could be associated with this random regularity. Photoreceptors play the critical role of translating the physical world into electrical signals.
“It’s extremely beautiful just to look at these patterns,” Corbo said in an interview with Wolchover (pictured left). “We were kind of captured by the beauty, and had, purely out of curiosity, the desire to understand the patterns better.”
Their interest centered on determining the origin of these random regular patterns – a hidden order also observed in the retinal eye cones in a number of fish species. Patterns with hidden orders are known in the fields of mathematics and physics.
Rods and Cones
Rods and cones are the are the two types of eye sensors found in a wide range of species, each sending electrical signals to the brain for interpreting the surroundings. Rods are very sensitive to light without any color – transmitting only black and white, and shades of gray.
Only cones are known to receive and transmit color information. While humans have three types of cones for color reception, red, green, and blue (RGB), allowing for the perception of millions of colors, birds, however, have five types of color cones, red, green, blue and double-type black – all of different sizes (pictured).
What appears as random distribution is actually an ordered pattern – random regularity. The phrase “eagle eyes,” has a biological basis allowing eagles to spot mice from a mile high.
The arrangement of cones in humans, in contrast to birds, is random with no discernible pattern. The question is Why?
Corbo (pictured right) wondered what unknown constrains could account for “the strange, uncategorizable pattern” of cones in bird eyes. To answer the question, Corbo turned to Salvadore Torquato, professor of theoretical chemistry at Princeton University. Torquato is renowned expert in packing problems.
“I wanted to get at this question of whether such a system was optimally packed,” Corbo said in the interview with Wolchover. On running some algorithms on digital images of the bird retinal patterns Torquato “was astounded,” Corbo recalled, “to see the same phenomenon occurring in these systems as they’d seen in a lot of inorganic or physical systems.”
Torquato had been studying the hidden order of patterns since the early 2000s, giving it the name “hyperuniformity.” Since then, hyperuniformity has been widely observed in nine biological systems.
Hyperuniformity is found in materials called quasicrystals, soft-matter systems like emulsions and colloids, and in mathematical matrices full of random numbers, the large-scale structure of the universe, quantum ensembles.
From a mathematical standpoint, “the more you study it, the more elegant and conceptually compelling it seems,” said Henry Cohn (pictured left) , a mathematician and packing expert at Microsoft Research Lab, New England, in an interview with Wolchover (pictured left).
Laws of Physics
Getting a predictable random regularity pattern with five cones of different sizes is no small feat. Taking coins as an example, “If you take pennies, and you try to compress the pennies, the pennies like to go into the triangular lattice,” Torquato explains. But throwing in some nickels with the pennies, “that stops it from crystallizing. Now if you have five different components — throw in quarters, throw in dimes, whatever — that inhibits crystallization even further.”
Based on the laws of physics, bird cones should be random – not predictively regular. However, the five color cones in birds are uniformly positioned – the blue cones are positioned equally far from other blue cones, the red cones are far from other red cones. The same random regularity is observed with the other three colored cones – defying known laws of physics.
Of Some Sort
“I see hyperuniformity as basically a hallmark of deeper optimization processes of some sort,” Cohn explained to Wolchover.
“What does it all mean?” Torquato rhetorically asked. “We don’t know.”
As for the pattern of five-color to the random regularity mosaics observed in birds’ eyes, Wolchover notes that “it is unique in nature. Corbo still hasn’t pinpointed how the pattern forms.”
Since a biological mechanism for random regularity defies a natural explanation, the bird’s eye serves as yet another example why evolution paradigm fails as a “scientific fact.”
“The more I study science,” noted Albert Eisenstein, “the more I believe in God.”
Despite a flood of challenges to prove otherwise, contemporary scientific evidence observed in nature continues to underscore the authentic reliability of Moses’ Genesis account.
Evolution, once a theory in crisis, is now in crisis without a scientific explanation to account for bird eye random regularity.
Biological evolution exists only as a philosophy, not a science.