Vision Res.(01) 300 BC - 1751

Ways of Seeing Visual Perception: Physiology, Psychology and Ecology Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago History of Science & Medicine)
Ways of Seeing Visual Perception: Physiology, Psychology and Ecology Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago History of Science & Medicine)

The Early History of the Study of Human Visual Perception (300 BC - 1700s)

Human visual perception has been the subject of speculation and study for centuries.

In his text "Optics" of about 300 BC, the scholar Euclid presented the eye as a geometrical point that shooting rays of light outwards towards objects.

Centuries later, the Arab scholar Alhazen (c.965-1038) disagreed with Euclid's theory of the eye and visual perception. He extended understanding of optics and made a detailed description of the human eye.

Little, if any, scientific progress was made in Europe throughout the Dark Ages (c.500-1200). Alhazen’s work was translated into Latin during the thirteenth century and was influential in early European studies.

Roger Bacon (1215-1294) is credited with the idea of using lenses for correcting vision. By the middle of the fourteenth century paintings included monks wearing spectacles.

The astronomer Kepler (1571-1630) studied the human eye and in 1604 suggested that the retina is the screen on which an image is formed by the lens. This was tested experimentally by Scheiner, when in 1625 he observed an upside-down image on the retina of an ox’s eye.

Descartes (1596-1650) described the ideas of both size constancy and shape constancy in his Dioptrics, which first appeared in 1637.

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) paved the way for the development of an understanding of colour vision by his studies of the characteristics of light.

In 1751 Robert Watt showed that the contraction of the pupil in response to bright light is a reflex, or involuntary, action.


This section includes summaries of historial research and theories of human visual perception of simple two-dimensional objects. For more about the human visual system see The Eye, Parts of Eye, Eye & Vision Disorders, Ophthalmological Procedures.

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