The Eye

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the eye. Humans have been attempting to understand the workings and significance of the organ for at least 2500 years. Some ancient philosophers believed that the eye enabled creatures to see by emitting its own light. The function and structures of the eye became an area of particular interest to doctors in the Islamic Golden Age. In Renaissance Europe the work of thinkers including Kepler and Descartes revolutionised thinking about how the organ worked, but it took several hundred years for the eye to be thoroughly understood. Eyes have long attracted more than purely scientific interest, known even today as the ‘windows on the soul’.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Patricia Fara 17 episodes
    Senior Tutor of Clare College, University of Cambridge
  • William Ayliffe No other episodes
    Gresham Professor of Physic at Gresham College
  • Robert Iliffe No other episodes
    Professor of Intellectual History and History of Science at the University of Sussex

Reading list

  • Visual Perception: Physiology, Psychology and Ecology
    Vicki Bruce, Mark A. Georgeson and Patrick R. Green (Psychology Press, 2003) Google Books →
  • The New Visual Neurosciences
    Leo Chalupa and John Werner (MIT Press, 2013) Google Books →
  • A History of Optics from Greek Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century
    Olivier Darrigol (Oxford University Press, 2012) Google Books →
  • Eye and Brain: The Psychology of Seeing
    Richard Gregory (Oxford University Press, 1997) Google Books →
  • Eye, Brain and Vision
    David Hubel (Scientific American Library, 1988) Google Books →
  • The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West
    Toby E. Huff (Cambridge University Press, 2003) Google Books →
  • The Eye: A Natural History
    Simon Ings (Bloomsbury, 2007) Google Books →
  • Animal Eyes
    Michael F. Land and Dan-Eric Nilsson (Oxford University Press, 2001) Google Books →
  • Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler
    David C. Lindberg (University of Chicago Press, 1996) Google Books →
  • The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to AD 1450
    David C. Lindberg (University of Chicago Press, 2008) Google Books →
  • The Fire Within the Eye
    David Park (Princeton University Press, 1999) Google Books →
  • Theories of Light: From Descartes to Newton
    A. I. Sabra (Cambridge University Press, 1981) Google Books →
  • Ptolemy and the Foundations of Ancient Mathematical Optics
    Mark Smith (American Philosophical Society, 1999) Google Books →
  • Alhacen's Theory of Visual Perception
    Mark Smith (American Philosophical Society, 2001) Google Books →
  • A Natural History of Vision
    Nicholas Wade (MIT Press, 2000) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: b03w2w19

Episode page:

Auto-category: 612.84 (Anatomy and Physiology of the Eye)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. In the collection of Cambridge University Library is a modest notebook which belongs to Isaac Newton when he was a student.