Is there a connection between the eyes and the brain?

Out of the much-coveted spots on our bodies, we should be protecting our brains. That much is obvious. “If you are smart enough to communicate in Pee-wee’s Playhouse or learn how to code, you should be able to speak up about what’s going on in the brain,” said Nick Lloyd, a neuroscientist at Omicron Faculty at Stanford University.

Lloyd and other brain researchers are involved in a project that claims to be the most comprehensive study yet of the connections between our eyes and our brains. The researchers project that the connections between our eyes and the rest of our brain, called the “white matter,” also have something to do with our intelligence. If that’s the case, he added, it’s unclear what role our eyes actually play in cognition.

But we should see people’s noses as highly connected to their brains, he added. Senses such as smell and taste and touch have important roles in our brains, as does vision. “Each of those natural senses is extremely well regulated through the white matter of the brain,” he said.

In addition to meeting the gaze, there’s something called “crosstalk” between our eyes, eyes and the eyeball of the person to our left or right. The much-studied area on the retina of the eye and the part of the eye that develops as we age are extremely close. That puts pressure on the membranes that contain the nerve fibers that carry visual information between the brain and eye. Over time, those membranes break down, resulting in nerve fibers that lose their connections to each other and eventually to the brain. We also lose connections to the retina that reside in the optic nerve; in the old days, you might see people without optical illusions, since all they were seeing was blurry, black slivers.

Neuroscientists cannot tell you how many of us will lose these connections, but they can tell you that when we do, we lose a big piece of our vision, Lloyd said.

When the body develops, we lose connections between our eyes and the rest of our brains, Lloyd said. (A study of rats found that the connections between the eyes and brains were so weak that they functioned like lighting shafts.) But, so far, there’s been no clear evidence to support the idea that our eyes help us control our brains or that seeing something improves our ability to control other things in the brain.

On the other hand, when you’re looking for your keys, or when you lose sight of someone, your brain seems to make adjustments to compensate for the lack of brain connections.

No doubt, we still need to spend more time in front of the eye doctor, but the eye doctors we have could probably do more to help us too.

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