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Science

Computer Game Reveals 'Space-Time' Neurons In the Eye 105

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the eye-like-reflexes dept.
sciencehabit (1205606) writes news that the EyeWire project from MIT has yielded some exciting results. "You open the overstuffed kitchen cabinet and a drinking glass tumbles out. With a ninjalike reflex, you snatch it before it shatters on the floor, as if the movement of the object were being tracked before the information even reached your brain. According to one idea of how the circuitry of the eye processes visual data, that is literally what happens. Now, a deep anatomical study of a mouse retina — carried out by 120,000 members of the public — is bringing scientists a step closer to confirming the hypothesis." The paper (paywalled), and a gallery of screenshots of the game.

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Computer Game Reveals 'Space-Time' Neurons In the Eye

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  • gotta have 'em.
  • by wbr1 (2538558) on Monday May 05, 2014 @06:15PM (#46923775)
    The retina and optic nerve are very complex and dense. The almost certainly perform some level of preprocessing, and as such are really just an extension of the brain. However to say that you react before -any- info reaches the brain smacks of a physical impossibility as the brain has to receive some sort of data to trigger motor action. Unless the motor nerves are connected directly to the eyeballs.
    • by iamacat (583406)

      I don't find the idea that there is some direct connection between eyes and spinal cord that far fetched. What better way to avoid hazardous fast flying objects?

      • What better way to avoid hazardous fast flying objects?

        Uh...the Force? This is such a boring, mundane explanation for Jedi reaction feats...

    • If I'm not mistaken, the optical lobe is at the back of the brain, situated right above the cerebellum which is responsible for motor control. So yeah, it doesn't seem far fetched that you're physically taking action before you're consciously aware of it.

    • by lgw (121541) on Monday May 05, 2014 @07:51PM (#46924477) Journal

      Doesn't seem that odd to me. You react to touching something hot before any signal reach the brain. That's almost the definition of a reflex vs reaction.

      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        Doesn't seem that odd to me. You react to touching something hot before any signal reach the brain. That's almost the definition of a reflex vs reaction.

        That's because touching something hot triggers an action potential in the skin and only needs to travel to the spinal column and back to elicit the motion. The pain receptors fire more slowly and have to travel to the brain. That is different from neurons firing in the eye and the signal making it to the hand. It (hot reflex) is also much less complex. It only needs to jerk the hand back. Catching the falling glass requires many muscles working in concert.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by UnknownSoldier (67820)

      > However to say that you react before -any- info reaches the brain smacks of a physical impossibility

      Incorrect. You have outdated information.

      There have been studies shown that the heart is able to react pre-stimulus; THEN the brain reacts. The heart contains 40,000+ neurons is part of the reason.

      the amygdala makes instantaneous decisions about the threat level of incoming sensory information, and due to its extensive connections to the hypothalamus and other autonomic nervous system centers, is able to

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by NitWit005 (1717412)
        Even just reading from that quote, the information did actually reach the brain first. It just didn't reach what the authors define as the "higher brain centers". You're not contradiction him. I'm not sure how the electromagnetic field strength of the heart was supposed to be relevant either.
      • Electric field strength of the heart has nothing to do with it's data carrying capacity and everything to do with the large muscle that it is.
    • by AK Marc (707885)
      The tracking starts before the brain is notified. The eye "knows" to look at unusual events, even without asking the brain for permission.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's a misnomer to say "before the information reached the brain" because as you say these nerves are parts of the brain - a proper way to say it would be "before you're consciously aware of it". The conscious mind often operates with a surprisingly long delay, even a second or more. All matter of sensory input takes a lot of processing before you're aware of it, and even some decision-making (like catching the glass in the example) is "automatic" and happens before you "think of it".

    • by Aeonym (1115135)

      My neurobiology degree is about 20 years outdated, but I'm still confident in declaring you 100% wrong. It is well established that many reflexes--which are 'motor action'--occur without any intervention or even awareness of the central cortex. The doctor hitting your knee to get an involuntary kick is one example. Most of the processing involved in walking, including recovering from imbalance, actually happens below the spinal cord.

    • Agree, but it's still pretty weird to think that your brain is always a quarter second ahead of your body and manages to trick the ghost into believing it's in sync with the machinery.

      The network lag from eye to hand is about 200-250ms and it's not that hard to prove it by experiment (there are many and varied fairground/gambling games that rely on that delay to make money). Anything faster means you're picking up early clues, other senses are in play, or you're not human. Fast reactions are obviously an
    • by mikael (484)

      With some critters, that is exactly what happens. The jellyfish doesn't have a brain but it does have some muscles and a series of simple "eyes" that detect dark and light. That's enough to allow it to remain in the shadow of floating objects.

  • Eyes are Brains (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pubwvj (1045960) on Monday May 05, 2014 @06:20PM (#46923803)

    The eyes are actually part of the brain and have computational and comparative circuits built into them. This has been known for many decades.

    • Re:Eyes are Brains (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rk (6314) on Monday May 05, 2014 @07:26PM (#46924291) Journal

      Truth. One of my favorites is motion detection. It is carried out in the retina, and curiously, the neurons that compute motion are only wired to rods, not to cones. You can do some pretty freaky things to your vision armed with this knowledge. Example: write a simple program to bounce a green dot on a red field smoothly. It looks like motion. Get two polarized lenses, one green, one red, and put them together. You can then turn the lenses to a point where the contrast of the green and red are similar and you quit perceiving the motion of the dot and you only perceive discrete jumps of it. It's a very jarring experience.

      • by dmbasso (1052166)

        Can you provide me a reference for the experiment you mentioned? It seems odd that motion circuits would be connected only to rods, as they get saturated pretty easily (in other words, wouldn't work in daylight conditions), and I didn't find any mention to it in [1]. Aren't you actually exploiting an artifact of binocular vision?

        [1] Gollisch, Tim, and Markus Meister. “Eye Smarter than Scientists Believed: Neural Computations in Circuits of the Retina.” Neuron 65, no. 2 (January 28, 2010): 150

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Take a nasally voice, add lots of extraneous noise, and you have the walkthrough from Hell

    • As much as it's a rubbish summary and so forth, the game itself (eyewire.org) is actually quite compelling, at least on a par with those silly bubble saga things - and it gets human "mice" to map neurons for us science types!

      Please be more positive, the more we know about such things, the sooner I'll have my network socket... ;-)

  • Teaser? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Monday May 05, 2014 @06:26PM (#46923833) Journal

    The "space-time" intro at first made me think they discovered quantum sensors in the eyes that detect action slightly before it happens using parallel universes or the like. But they are just talking about motion-sensing pre-processing by the retina itself.

    Disappointment. I wanted the ability to walk into my boss's office and say, "Before you get up to fire me, I quit!"

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Disappointment. I wanted the ability to walk into my boss's office and say, "Before you get up to fire me, I quit!"

      you really should have that ability already. try it out tomorrow.

    • by Belial6 (794905)
      Employers must love you. You actually want to let them off the hook for unemployment payments.
  • Zoned? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mfh (56) on Monday May 05, 2014 @06:34PM (#46923879) Homepage Journal

    I had a friend and he was one of those friends who would always get me into trouble when I was a kid. He was four years older than me... and this was in grade 9 for me. He was the kind of dude that would just throw something at you and yell your name last second. It got so that I had developed Jedi reflexes around this kid. Something told me exactly what to expect. One day the bastard throws a big knotted wooden log towards my head, and calls it out last second as it's about to hit my face.

    Without any hesitation I caught it!! About 45-55lbs, which isn't that much -- but it's a hell of a lot to catch without warning.

    My point is that there is probably some kind of zone of effect to this type of thing where in a kitchen for example you could expect that a plate or glass might get knocked off the counter so you would be queued up to catch something whenever you enter the kitchen.

    • We call it the clumsy/adroit syndrome.

      Because I have always dropped and spilled things, my brain is fine tuned to the slightest evidence of an impending gravitational incident...

      thus I catch my own drops better than average.

    • Re:Zoned? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by sexconker (1179573) on Monday May 05, 2014 @06:54PM (#46924049)

      I had a friend and he was one of those friends who would always get me into trouble when I was a kid. He was four years older than me... and this was in grade 9 for me. He was the kind of dude that would just throw something at you and yell your name last second. It got so that I had developed Jedi reflexes around this kid. Something told me exactly what to expect. One day the bastard throws a big knotted wooden log towards my head, and calls it out last second as it's about to hit my face.

      Without any hesitation I caught it!! About 45-55lbs, which isn't that much -- but it's a hell of a lot to catch without warning.

      My point is that there is probably some kind of zone of effect to this type of thing where in a kitchen for example you could expect that a plate or glass might get knocked off the counter so you would be queued up to catch something whenever you enter the kitchen.

      You should have gone with 15-20 pounds. Someone might have believed it then. Your scrawny freshman ass wasn't catching, deflecting, or parrying 50 pounds of anything near your head, let alone a log chucked at you by someone who was a legal adult to your legal minor. At a distance far enough for you to not see or hear the initial throw, the mass would have to be traveling moderately fast in order to be anywhere near your head before hitting the ground. Moderately fast squared, times your ridiculous claim of 50 pounds, equals you not standing a fucking chance, quick or not.

      I don't know what prompted this lame exaggerated story about an older boy molesting you with 50 pounds of hard wood, but there are better uses for a low digit UID.

      • Re:Zoned? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by artor3 (1344997) on Monday May 05, 2014 @08:53PM (#46924879)

        He might just suck at estimating weight. I used to play a game at work where we would have people guess how much a package weighed before putting it on a scale, and some people are really, jaw-droppingly bad at that sort of thing. It's sort of interesting how people can usually estimate lengths, and volumes, and temperatures quite well, but on weight they'll be off by a factor of five or more.

        • by Solandri (704621)
          I had a friend who would always exaggerate the weight of the fish he caught. After years of listening to hist boasts, then weighing the fish later when we got home, I developed a heuristic of simply dividing any weight he claimed by 1.7 to get the actual weight.

          The weird thing was, it was incredibly accurate. He may have exaggerated a lot, but he exaggerated consistently. After dividing by 1.7, his claimed weight was almost always within 10% of the actual weight.
      • by Khyber (864651)

        "You should have gone with 15-20 pounds. Someone might have believed it then. Your scrawny freshman ass wasn't catching, deflecting, or parrying 50 pounds of anything near your head, let alone a log chucked at you by someone who was a legal adult to your legal minor. "

        You must've been homeschooled, you poor sap. I've seen plenty of brawny freshman able to take on junior and senior football players and wrestlers on equal term. I knew 160-pound freshman weightlifters able to bench 250 and squat 700+, and coul

        • by ooshna (1654125)

          You've never tried to catch a 50lb spinning object going for your head that you reacted to last second have you? Deflected ok maybe but actually catch up that high? Come on now.

          • by Khyber (864651)

            "You've never tried to catch a 50lb spinning object going for your head that you reacted to last second have you?"

            Guess your childles sself has never had your own child (or niece or nephew) run at you, leap up in the air, and scream 'surprise!' right before they collide with you. It's catch. Drop is not an option.

            • by ooshna (1654125)

              Soft child jumping at your chest or torso wrapping their arms and/or legs around you vs a hunk of wood spinning at your head. Come on stop trying to compare apples to oranges.

              • by Khyber (864651)

                Guess what? Living bodies are harder to control versus a stiff piece of wood.

                Go back to physics class you childless failure. Better yet, go back to high school and join a wrestling team. Maybe you'll learn about how flexible objects tend to sling their weight all around the place versus a stiff inflexible object.

      • by Khyber (864651)

        Oh, and to add on to this, I'm 150 and right now I'm tossing around 70+ pound 4x4 posts and 2x12 planks in Texas building a demo hydro shed. And yes, when someone says 'Throw me that...' on a code-exempt agricultural site, shit gets THROWN.

        http://imgur.com/jx7FleE [imgur.com]

        Back to school with your poor understanding of classical physics.

        • by Raenex (947668)

          Nothing there looks like it weighs 70+ pounds. I'm also guessing you don't catch them when they are thrown in your direction, either. I tell you what. Put 40 pounds of weight in a box and have somebody launch it at your head, and then attempt to catch it. Please video. You could probably make a few bucks selling it on one of those "jackasses get hurt" shows.

          • by Khyber (864651)

            "Nothing there looks like it weighs 70+ pounds. "

            Each beam alone is plus 70 pounds if its not a 2x4.

            "I'm also guessing you don't catch them when they are thrown in your direction, either."

            Yes, I do, same way we caught 50 and 100lb bags of rice just tossed off the back of the freight truck when I was 15 working at an oriental market as the stock boy.

            The joys of ignorant people who have very little life experience. I just look at you and shake my head at your poor sheltered life.

            • Catching an expected object tossed toward / dropped into your centre of gravity is wholly different than catching an unexpected object thrown at your head. Can a fit human toss a 70 pound object? Yes- that's not too difficult. Can they throw it at someone's face? A little harder but still not difficult. Can you spin around and catch such a flying object? Certainly not reliably.

              If people are regularly hurling 70 pound beams at others on a construction site they are probably stupid and a liability (note: thr

              • Almost half your weight damnit.
              • by Khyber (864651)

                "Can you spin around and catch such a flying object? Certainly not reliably."

                Wanna know how I know you're without children of your own? :)

                • Unless you are some sort of "little person" children are going to have a hard time flinging themselves above your centre of balance. They also lack certain properties of a 16 foot 4x4 (which is approximately how long a 4x4 has to be to be 70 pounds). If a 70 pound child unexpectedly flies into you at head level there is a very good chance you are going down. They don't do that though do they? They run into your waist or possibly jump off a couch into your arms. The amount of force needed to heave a 70 pound

            • by Raenex (947668)

              Each beam alone is plus 70 pounds if its not a 2x4.

              So you say.

              Yes, I do, same way we caught 50 and 100lb bags of rice just tossed off the back of the freight truck when I was 15 working at an oriental market as the stock boy.

              A bag of rice is not a solid and edgy piece of wood, and I'm sure it was dropped into your body with outstretched arms and not launched at your head.

              The joys of ignorant people who have very little life experience. I just look at you and shake my head at your poor sheltered life.

              The joys of jackasses who talk stupid shit on the Internet.

            • by Raenex (947668)

              Each beam alone is plus 70 pounds if its not a 2x4.

              Oh, and just to inject some reality [menards.com] into this discussion:

              Dimensions: 3 9/16" x 3 9/16" x 8' Actual
              Shipping Dimensions: 96.0 x 3.5 x 3.5
              Shipping Weight: 20.0 lbs

              But keep on thinking you're tossing around and catching 70+ pounds of wood. Jackass.

              • by Khyber (864651)

                Regular wood, not pressurized heat treated (you can't even identify your fucking lumber, how the fuck can you be expected to know what weighs what?)

                • by Raenex (947668)

                  The pressurized wood is only 10lbs more. Not that any of this matters, since you're making up shit anyways. People on constructions sites don't throw heavy pieces of lumber at each other for the other person to catch. Anybody with a functioning brain would throw it on the ground next to the person, jackass.

    • by Rockoon (1252108)
      Any serious baseball player will tell you that its your peripheral vision that is fast enough for this sort of catching-unexpected-things behavior.

      See this fine catch [youtube.com] for evidence of how not only is the speed almost instant, but that the player himself wasnt even surprised that he caught it. "Keep it on the field, guys."
    • by Solandri (704621)
      Yeah, anticipation or expectation is probably a big part of it. I was shopping at a supermarket and needed to check the price of some small jars of jam on the top shelf. The jars were sold in pairs, one atop the other and shrink-wrapped together, with the price printed on top. So I tipped one over to check the price.

      In the back of my mind, I recall thinking "gee, wouldn't it be funny if I was imagining the shrink-wrap and they weren't sold in pairs, and by tipping it I would cause the top one to fall
      • by Agent0013 (828350)
        I have witnessed my step-dad do an amazing catch. He knocked filled glass off the table with the back of his hand. While the glass was falling, mouth faced downward, he moved quick enough to catch the glass. Then, rather than just catch the glass, he continued the motion to scoop up the falling liquid. He got all of it but two small drops that hit the floor. He was a black-belt tae kwon do instructor at the time, so his reflexes were probably pretty good from training but it was still really impressive to s
  • While this finding is interesting it's not the first time neuroscientists have found complicated functions being performed in the retina of non-primates; the extrapolation in the summary to implications on human vision is a bit of stretch. Mice have poor high-frequency vision, but they can sort of make up for it with vision that's sensitive to motion. Many others mammal have this feature as well (rabbits, cats, etc).

  • This story brings a couple of quotes from the movie Enter the Dragon: 1) To a student he's instructing - "Don't think, feel" 2) Holding up his fist - "It hits all by itself"
  • by Anonymous Coward

    A summary / cut&paste of the information in the articles:

    "In 1964, scientists showed that some neurons in the retina fire up only in response to motion. These detectors have so-called direction selectivity, each one sensitive to objects moving in different directions. No one knew the fine-grained anatomical detail about how the neurons in the retina are wired up to each other. We have no computer model that can figure it out. Only humans have good enough spatial reasoning to trace out the borders of all

  • Duck! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Flammon (4726) on Monday May 05, 2014 @08:50PM (#46924851) Homepage Journal
    The first time I experienced this affect was a few year ago while I was walking in some local trails. All of a sudden my body ducked and only after did I realise that I was about to hit a low hanging tree branch. Our mind is living in the past.
  • It easily could be that your mind is simulating everything a few moments into the future. Trying to anticipate the actions of others, your own actions, and the possible events that could occur. Occasionally it could find something's going to fall, but can't insert an action far enough ahead to prevent it from starting like tipping a cup. The result is you responding to a falling cup prior to you knowing it was going to fall.
  • Visual information controlling physical action without conscious thought. [wikipedia.org] Think of it as a higher level of autonomous nervous system.

    Peter Watts wrote a very depressing novel [amazon.com] involving the idea which explores the possibility that consciousness is not necessary for intelligent life, and, indeed, may ultimately turn out to be an evolutionary dead end...

    • by Bongo (13261)

      I find it a bit odd how it seems very rational to maintain that the brain and nervous system is all we are, at the end of the day, so all our complex human behaviours, intelligence, and emotions, are purely the result of a physical machine running, and death is a physical and complete end, yet as soon as we imagine that this machine could run in the dark, ie. we'll all still be talking to each other, interacting, going about our day, just there would be no sentience to experience any of these events, as soo

  • I was at PetSmart and a girl was restocking the cat food can shelf and bent over to get the next box. The previous one fell (a 24-can package! not exactly light) and she snagged the thing backhanded as it fell off the shelf. Apparently, ninja's work at PetSmart.
    • she snagged the thing backhanded as it fell off the shelf. Apparently, ninja's work at PetSmart.

      Either that or she was a really hungry. Working stocking the shelves at PetSmart cat food is most likely all she can afford to eat. I am a pensioner and sometimes my cat eats better than I do, Friskies starts looking better and better all the time, wonder if their chicken and giblets pate would taste ok with mustard on a cracker? Might need a little salt but honestly some high end cat food is starting look better than what I have to eat most of the time.

  • So space-time neurons are the new midichlorians?
  • Does this explain why, when my daughter dropped her plush animal toy last night I automatically grabbed for it, even though it meant I would spill my beer all over the place in order to catch something that couldn't possibly be damaged by a short fall?

    • You can train your reflexes though. And you can override them (to an extent). If you reach for something hot and consciously decide not to pull away from it, you will not automatically jerk your hand away if you have prepared for it.

      Similarly you can tailor your reflexes to respond in a limited fashion. For instance most people jump when they are startled or unexpectedly touched. It is entirely possible to change this reflex to a defensive one where you attempt to grapple/control the person grabbing you

      • by Quirkz (1206400)

        Definitely true. I'll add to this that I was holding my daughter in one hand last night and my beer in the other. There wasn't any risk of dropping the girl in order to try catching the toy. My beer hand just didn't have the same override working on it.

  • Doesn't EVERYTHING (as we know it) exist in the space-time continuum? Now excuse me as my space-time motor neurons move my space-time legs so I can go get some space-time coffee.

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