changing diet might allow you to see infrared

Thanks to Eric Lundquis for typing this up and putting it on the internet. It’s an experiment done by the army and cited by Rubin, M. L., and Walls, G. L. (1969). Fundamentals of visual science. Springfield, Ill.: Thomas, p. 546, which is in turn cited Sekuler, R., and Blake, R. (1994). Perception (3rd ed.). Springfield, Ill.: Thomas, pp. 62-63:

The following story dramatizes how photopigments determine what one can see. During World War II, the United States Navy wanted its sailors to be able to see infrared signal lights that would be invisible to the enemy. Normally, it is impossible to see infrared radiation because, as pointed out earlier, the wavelengths are too long for human photopigments. In order for humans to see infrared, the spectral sensitivity of some human photopigment would have to be changed. Vision scientists knew that retinal, the derivative of vitamin A, was part of every photopigment molecule and that various forms of vitamin A existed. If the retina could be encouraged to use some alternative form of vitamin A in its manufacture of photopigments, the spectral sensitivity of those photopigments would be abnormal, perhaps extending into infrared radiation. Human volunteers were fed diets rich in an alternative form of vitamin A but deficient in the usual form. Over several months, the volunteers’ vision changed, giving them greater sensitivity to light of longer wavelengths. Though the experiment seemed to be working, it was aborted. The development of the “snooperscope,” an electronic device for seeing infrared radiation, made continuation of the experiment unnecessary (Rubin and Walls, 1969). Still, the experiment demonstrates that photopigments select what one can see; changing those photopigments would change one’s vision.

17 Comments

  1. Posted November 1, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I had not known that the eye could be adapted that way does it say how long it would take to change the eye sensitivity and how much difference it made?

  2. The Dude
    Posted June 27, 2011 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    Way cool. Hack the matrix indeed.

  3. mintu khoshnabish
    Posted July 28, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    i dont think any person will take risk of mofifyingretina

  4. woundedduck
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    The Great Designer in the Sky made eyes. It is impossible to alter His design. Anti-Christian propaganda like this makes me sick.

    • Christiansmakemesick
      Posted February 3, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      Man wrote the Bible and invented God. It is impossible to prove the existance of an invisible being or creator. Anti-Science propaganda like this makes me sick. :P

    • darwinism
      Posted February 3, 2012 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

      To quote you:
      “It is impossible to alter His design.”

      Please, PLEASE, tell me you are trolling. Otherwise, PLEASE explain to me how you account for genetic mutations, as well as scientific GENETIC ENGINEERING that in the most literal sense ALTERS ‘HIS’ DESIGN.

      Grow a brain.

      • woundedduck
        Posted February 6, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

        you guessed it. trolling. it’s great fun.

      • me
        Posted February 14, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

        Dude calm down. He was obviously being facetious. No serious Christian refers to God as “Great Designer in the Sky”. I LSTMS.

      • Sarah
        Posted April 19, 2012 at 2:49 am | Permalink

        Genetic mutations are the result of sin, DNA was designed perfectly, all we have to work with is the deteriorated copies of copies of copies and this is one of the results of sin. Genetic engineering is an example of how humans have stewardship of the earth.

    • Jake
      Posted August 6, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

      lol shut up. Read a biology textbook. someone from above didn’t design anything

    • Posted June 26, 2013 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

      There’s noth9ing anti-christian here. You religious reich morons try to play the persecution card at every turn.

      What you really want is the freedom to persecute others without the hindrances of the law and human decency.

      Most of the problems of the world have been caused by religion. Think of the crusades, the inquisition, the dark ages, the witch burnings, the restrictions on learning, free speech, instilling guilt and shame into children, and the wars fought in the name of religion.

      More recently, think of family planning clinic bombings, oppression of gays and non-believers, murders of doctors and homosexuals, imposition of religious beliefs by force of law, and illegal use of public funds to promote particular religions.

      Mankind will never truly be free until the black yoke of religion is lifted by the clear light of truth and rational thinking.

  5. August Pamplona
    Posted February 3, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    Better not screw with that if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, though. Just in case.

  6. Posted April 18, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Isn’t this a mutated form of the deliberately constructed rumour circulated in the UK during WWII, that RAF night-pilots were being fed a diet rich in carrots (a strong source of Vitamin A) to improve their ability to see in the dark?

    Why bother? Because we didn’t want the Germans to know we’d developed a thing called radar.

    • August Pamplona
      Posted April 18, 2012 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

      Alternatively, bilberries.

  7. Posted December 5, 2013 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    You guys might be interested in checking out Scienceforthemasses.org. We are replicating this experiment. Already finished the crowd-funding etc.
    -Cassox

  8. Meno
    Posted June 18, 2014 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    Lol, this is absolutely wrong. If it were true, people on Accutane (a popular treatment for acne administered over a long time that is basically a bonkers dose of vitamin A) would report some visual phenomena.

    Even ignoring the infrared madness, the carrots/vision WWII thing is wrong altogether: http://www.snopes.com/food/ingredient/carrots.asp

    • Posted June 19, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      Meno writes:

      Lol, this is absolutely wrong. If it were true, people on Accutane (a popular treatment for acne administered over a long time that is basically a bonkers dose of vitamin A) would report some visual phenomena.

      In all fairness, changing the spectral sensitivity of photopigments does not imply anyone noticing since such changes (if any) could be subtle.

      As for Accutane itself, you do realize that various visual disturbances, including reversible loss of color vision and decreased night vision, are reported as side effects, don’t you? Given this, I’m not sure how it would be so absurd (as to deserve LOL) to wonder if something like this is not happening.


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