Over the Rainbow: Hunt

Holly Fischer, eyeball, eye anatomy, citizen science

Unless you’re in a completely empty room with blank walls — or frankly unless you have no visual perception whatsoever, which accounts for only 18% of visually impaired people — there are usually all kinds of things in the world that demand your eyes’ attention just by being there. It could be overwhelming! But luckily, although human eyesight isn’t as sharp as a hawk’s or an owl’s, we did still evolve predator eyes and brains, which are good for identifying and tracking objects a long distance away. We’ve come to rely on our vision more than on our less-developed other senses, because we can see “better” than a lot of species.

That said, most mammalian eyes work rather similarly across the board; the human eye just works particularly well. So what goes into not just seeing the world but focusing on it? Well, a lot of our visual data processing happens in our brains’ occipital lobes, but before anything gets that far, it’s all about the cousin to the nervous system’s electricity: light.

If you play Eyewire, you probably know that light enters the eye through the pupil, is focused by the lens behind it, and lands on the retina; the retina’s photoreceptors then chemically react with the arriving photons, and the rest is neurological history. However, this isn’t the full story. Did you know that most focusing doesn’t happen with our eyes’ lenses, but with our corneas — before the light has even passed our pupil at all? The cornea forms its own convex curve on the ocular surface, and between the cornea and the iris there’s the aqueous humor. This curve and fluid cause entering light to refract, or bend, as you’ve learned about in our last post. Without this step, the light would not focus enough to carry a useful image through the inner lens.

After the cornea does the heavy lifting, the iris and the lens are where the finer tuning happens. The iris and lens are each attached to the eye’s ciliary muscles. As the ciliary muscles either tense or relax, they control the iris’ dilation to affect how much light gets into the eye, while they also affect the shape of the lens. Tense, constricted ciliary muscles allow you to reduce glare, focus on something close up, or both. These are all critical steps for helping you understand what’s going on around you, although they’re also why you can tire out or even damage your eyes from too much screen time. Your ciliary muscles can only fully relax if you’re gazing into the distance at something that isn’t super-bright. (Remember: as fun as Eyewire is, you should always give yourself screen breaks!)

One last part of ocular light control comes from your eye’s natural reflexive movements, known as saccades. Although humans have decent peripheral vision, our eyes and visual processing systems are still not powerful enough to get a perfect snapshot of everything in front of us by just staring at a single fixed point in space. Even when you don’t think your eyes are moving to deliberately track an object, they’re almost always moving a little bit. Saccadic movement allows our retinas to receive a stream of distinct images that are then constantly processed to form what appears to be a smooth, continuous environment. It’s almost like how insects use their compound eyes, only since we have just one lens per eye, we have to keep our field of focus perpetually darting, perpetually updating.

The last big way we can stay visually focused is pattern recognition. This part does happen in your brain, so not much light is directly involved anymore. But even then, colors are always something to interpret in a given image pattern, and it’s truly fascinating what our brains have evolved to use color for. Color differences not only help us distinguish low-contrast objects, they also can tell us something in the environment is dangerous, such as how reds and flame tones often spell poisonous food or, well, fire — something is calm and safe, such as how studies show your mental health can improve when you’re surrounded by greenery. In fact, humans are generally better at distinguishing shades of green than any other color.

So: with all of this in mind, how focused and pattern-recognizing do you feel this week? We’re going to put your own eyes and Eyewire skills to the test with a Hunt. There are 12 mergers in the Hunt cell; you have 5.5 days and 24 guesses to locate them all, between midnight EST on 2/19 and noon EST on 2/24.

How to identify and report mergers

    1. Select Hunt cell from Change Cell menu. Stay in the overview.
    2. Type /debug into chat. This will reveal a special box with information about the cell (located above the “Start Playing” box).
    3. Use ALT+click to select the origin point of the merger you have identified. It is a good idea to zoom in close on the merger before you select it to get the most accurate coordinates.
    4. Find the coordinates of the merger’s origin in the cell information box. These are next to the word “center.”
    5. In the chat pm thehunt bot your coordinates. For example: /pm thehunt 5123 4321 5678.
    6. thehunt bot will let you know if you got it right or wrong and tell you how many guesses you have left.
    7. To check how many mergers you have found and to check what guesses you have submitted, type “/pm thehunt !list”; the bot will give you a list of all the coordinates you have guessed, and whether or not there was a merger at each set of coordinates. A + means there was a merger there, a means there was not a merger there.
    8. If you accidentally submit the same coordinate a second time, it does not count as two guesses.

Do not reveal your coordinates to other players. Do not do anything against the spirit of the Hunt. Anyone caught cheating will be automatically disqualified from the event and will not receive any points.

Proximity to merger start point is determined by number of voxels (1 voxel = approx. 1/250th of a cube’s width). Mergers are only counted as found if guessed within a distance of 250 voxels. Pieces of dust floating in space don’t count as mergers, so please don’t report them! We also do not count fused mergers that could not be removed during the Hunt prep process.

Swag: The top scoring player will win a mug, plus a sticker/magnet set! Second and third place will each also win a sticker/magnet set.

Bonus info is available in your in-game notifications. Good luck, and happy hunting!

Image by Holly Fischer, CC BY 3.0