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I've started a hobby machine vision project (and posted some questions to this end on other SE sites) and on a side track, also been looking at relevant research in human vision (and partly, hearing).

I came across the work of one "James T Fulton" through an excerpt of a book which claims to have "revolutionised" our understanding of human vision and hearing.

Here are the respective links:
http://neuronresearch.net/vision/
http://www.neuronresearch.net/hearing/

I tried cross-verifying these claims via Google, but nothing turned up on searching either for the author or the book (apart from some Amazon links and very obscure references).

Considering the controversial natural of the claims made here, I would have imagined some level of debate, but the silence I found on the Internet is puzzling. Puzzling, because the sheer level of DETAIL in these books, prevents me from dismissing the claims altogether as well.

Can someone validate some of the content from these books so I can get an idea of the overall legitimacy of the work (and decide if I should continue reading, or not). Below might be a good link to start from: http://neuronresearch.net/vision/pdf/11Biophenom.pdf

Adding a few examples:

  1. The simplest one - is that the Principle of Univariance is not entirely correct. This is examined on pages 15 through 17 at this link (where I read it): http://neuronresearch.net/vision/pdf/11Biophenom.pdf

  2. There is this claim quoted verbatim from the site:
    "The theory shows that the ARCHITECTURE OF ALL VISION IS TETRACHROMATIC. Although traditionally called trichromats, it is shown that HUMANS ARE BLOCKED TETRACHROMATS"

    Caps in original. I just pasted it here to give an idea of the tone of some of the text. This specific claim is "proven" here (in short):
    http://neuronresearch.net/vision/files/tetracomparison.htm
    And a longer form of the text is linked in the same page

  3. There is also a theory proposed on why cochlea are coiled: http://neuronresearch.net/hearing/pdf/coiledcochlea.pdf

Thanks!

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Do you have specific questions? Rather than ask people to evaluate all the claims, it would be better to be specific about what you have questions about. Otherwise, I think this is too broad a question. Generally, if it's not in a peer-reviewed journal, I don't give it a second thought. And even if it is, I still give it a careful scouring. –  kmm Jul 11 '13 at 16:19
    
I do agree. I've posted some examples - but the text is perhaps a bit too detailed. The hyperbole screams BS to me, but I'd rather have some factual debunking of one or two of these theories than just go by the tone of the text. I'm open to further opinion on if the question can be pruned down further or if anything else can be done to make it neater. –  Dev Kanchen Jul 11 '13 at 17:42
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Skeptics SE would be a better place for this question because it doesn't directly relate to a biological question. For e.g you said that certain article says that human have trichromatic vision with a suppressed vision. A valid question to ask here would be- how does this work ? But in your post you are asking us to say whether James Fulton is right or not. It is like asking if HG Wells right about his theories. –  WYSIWYG Jul 11 '13 at 17:49
    
I agree. Where I am coming from is - he has stated how it works, and I'm asking if that's a valid explanation (I have updated the question a short while back to this end). If Skeptics is a better place for it, I'd be happy to see it moved. Only thing is I'm not sure the expertise for this question will be available at that forum. Maybe CognitiveSciences? Also, I'm not asking if HG Wells was right - that was science fiction. This is something claiming to be science - I just need to know if it really is. Thanks. –  Dev Kanchen Jul 11 '13 at 17:55
    
a lot of us frequent Skeptics as well, and as the site is fundamentally about applying reasoning and the scientific method to analyze notable claims, there are a lot of people there that shouldn't have any issue with this. Do you want the question migrated, or would you rather frame it afresh there? –  MattDMo Jul 11 '13 at 18:58

1 Answer 1

up vote 10 down vote accepted

OK, I'll field this one. I'll ignore any of the tell-tale signs of hokum such as writing in ALL CAPS.

Nevertheless, it's a lot of hokum. It's true that he goes into a lot of detail and I'm sure his math looks nice but the fact is that it's not grounded in reality. I would consider myself to be something of an expert (in training) in the field of phototransduction, so I'll focus on claims related to it. However, if he's as sloppy with the rest of the visual process as he is with phototransduction, then his claims are entirely bogus. I'll just be working from the Synopsis section.

Where to start...How about the first sentence of the "Background" section:

This work originated in the 1960's with the realization that rhodopsin, as then defined, did not meet the requirements for being a chromophore. It was particularly deficient in the structural characteristics required of a good chromophore.

FALSE. Rhodopsin is not a chromophore and, to my knowledge no one has ever claimed it to be a chromophore. Rhodopsin is a protein. It is coupled with a chromophore, retinal, a form of vitamin A. OK, so if this is the foundation of his research, he is off to a bad start.

The basic assumption had been that the residues of a destructive process could be easily returned to their original state and that state was a simple chemical bond involving only two components in a single molecule...It was assumed that one of the residues was the alcohol or aldehyde of Vitamin A. The other residue was assumed to be a protein and was given the name opsin. Valiant, but unsuccessful, efforts were made to define the nature of the molecule and achieve the formation of rhodopsin in the laboratory.

It absolutely is possible to reconstitute rhodopsin with the chromophore in the lab. This has been going on since at least 1983. Also, the crystal structure of rhodopsin, including the chromophore, was resolved in 2000.

A new class of retinoids was defined by the author at that time, the Rhodonines. This class met the requirements of physical chemistry and photochemistry for a high performance chromophore. However, it was difficult to obtain acceptance of the Rhodonines as a replacement for Rhodopsin within the vision research community.

I have never heard of Rhodonines and web searches only result in his page. Due to his confusion of terminology, I don't know if he is proposing them to be proteins ("replacement for Rhodopsin") or simple chemical molecules ("a high performance chromophore"). If it were the former, one would wonder why Rhodonines were not identified in a comprehensive proteomics assay of the rod outer segment. One would also wonder why rhodopsin is so highly expressed in the outer segment (on the order of 1e8 molecules in mammals and 1e9 molecules in amphibians, more than any other protein in that compartment). If it were the former, one would wonder why there is an entire biochemical cycle dedicated to recycling retinal that takes place just outside the outer segment.

I'll ignore whatever physical state these Rhodonines are supposedly in since they don't exist. I'll also ignore this "Activa" thing. He owns a patent on it, which doesn't bode well for its existence in nature.

The visual system is a very sophisticated system. It uses many of the most sophisticated methodologies known to man at the start of the 21st Century. Failure to recognize these mechanisms and methodologies leads to an inadequate understanding of the overall process.

I'll agree there, with the exception of the use of the word "methodologies"! This isn't engineering, this is biology.

The visual system employs a number of time related processes that have not previously been addressed in the literature. To understand these processes, it is necessary to employ "complex algebra" in the differential equations arena. Employing these techniques provides the complete solution to the overall photoexcitation/de-excitation process within the Outer Segment of the photoreceptor

Phototransduction has a rich history of mathematical modeling. And yes, they involve "complex algebra in the differential equations arena." An excellent review of the first few decades of it can be found in the bible: Phototransduction in vertebrate rods and cones: molecular mechanisms of amplification, recovery and light adaptation. Since that publication, there have been two very nice lineages of models: one comprehensive one that focuses on the proteins (1, 2, 3) and one that focuses on spatial accuracy and stochastic interactions and gives more attention to second messengers (1, 2, 3).

It has also been compounded by the historically poor preparation of the researchers in the field of mathematics.

I challenge him to read one of DiBenedetto's modeling papers and not glow in admiration of his mathematical prowess.

The goal has been to present an overall view of the visual system in a defendable mathematical context and a global scientific framework. This goal has required the introduction of techniques and mechanisms not normally found in the literature of vision. This has been particularly true in two areas, the definition and detailing of the initial photodetection process and a similar detailing of the mechanisms of neural signal transmission. In both cases, the dominance of chemically based concepts is shown to have impeded progress. The description of the visual system, including the neural system, as an entirely electronic, more precisely electrolytic, based system leads to much greater insight into the operation of the visual system than any chemically based theory can offer.

I had to quote in full here. This is entirely bogus. The "initial photodetection process" (phototransduction) is entirely chemical in nature. All of the main players in the process are known and their interactions are largely well understood. Viewing the system as entirely "electronic" ignores the mountains of evidence of all of the proteins participating in it.

Probably the most venerable is that of a dichotomy between types of photoreceptors, the rods and cones. The theory demonstrates in excruciating detail that there is only one functional type of photoreceptor cell and that it is associated with one of four types of chromophore. These chromophores are sensitive in the ultraviolet, the short, the medium and the long wavelength portions of the visual spectrum of light.

The problem with this is that if you look at a retina, you can see rods and cones. You can generate knock-out animals that have only one or the other. Those with only rods cannot handle bright visual stimulii, those with only cones cannot see in the dark. More damning is that you have two distinct phototransduction cascades, separated by evolution dating back to the origins of vertebrates. They share only a few proteins in common and otherwise have unique paralogs performing similar duties. You can isolate individual rod cells and, if you're clever and you have the right species, individual cone cells (they're much smaller and harder to harvest in animals like mice or cows). You can measure their electrophysiological characteristics and find that they are extremely different: cone responses are fast while rods can respond to a single photon of light. Their morphologies are completely different: the rod outer segment is filled with lipid bilayer disks, while that of the cone has a series of in-folds.

As for the whole tetrachromat thing, well, again I have to assume that he's referring to opsins when he talks about chromophores. Thanks to genomics, we can be confident that there are only three cone opsin varieties in old world apes (and one rod opsin). The rest of mammals only have two. If you get into other vertebrates, you'll find more...if you get into invertebrates, you'll find ridiculous numbers. There's not much to say here. A fourth cone opsin protein simply does not exist in the human genome.

So, that's just a quick overview. Do not worry about this guy's research. It is unsubstantiated and exists in a vacuum outside of the rest of the vision research world. I do wish that there were a way for him to work with others. I do wish there were a way for him to integrate current knowledge into his work. But the problem is that his work as it stands simply seems to ignore the wealth of data generated on the visual system and instead treats it as some theoretical circuit.

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Thank you. Thanks a lot! This is EXACTLY what I was looking for. Wasted a few valuable hours reading this before hitting some logic walls (I was reading the "11BioPhenom.pdf" I have linked to for some time before hitting the website - which is when the BS alarm went all the way.) The tone and claims were suspect but my lack of actual knowledge prevented me from reading anything more than "harmless grand posturing" into the material. Not much harm done anyway since I was just scouring for some interesting tidbits to explore formally later. Got one - "tremors", for what it's worth. –  Dev Kanchen Jul 11 '13 at 21:31
    
One thing about the tetrachromat claim: he'll claim that the opsins aren't the proteins of interest anyway, so it doesn't matter how many are in the genome. Of course, as I already showed, we can be confident that yes, the opsins are the light recepting proteins in phototransduction. –  Brandon Invergo Jul 11 '13 at 21:34
    
My pleasure. I was just glad to see a question pop up in one of my specialties. It was actually interesting for me to read his claims. –  Brandon Invergo Jul 11 '13 at 21:34
    
Also, +1 for this :) - "I'll also ignore this "Activa" thing. He owns a patent on it, which doesn't bode well for its existence in nature." –  Dev Kanchen Jul 11 '13 at 21:34
    
One more comment: if we only had one type of photoreceptor cell that contained four different light-sensitive molecules, we wouldn't be able to discern different colors. All of the light-sensitive molecules would be activating the same pathway! It would be like four light switches attached to the same light. When the light is on, if you don't look at the switches, you won't know which one even turned it on. –  Brandon Invergo Jul 11 '13 at 21:39

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