Monday, May 2, 2011
Five ways alien eyes might see
There’s no reason creatures from another world have to see in all the colors that we do. For that matter, I’ve read that dogs have dichromatic vision, rather than trichromatic, as we do.
Maybe aliens see everything in black or white – or in shades of colors like red or blue. Their identifying marks and decorations might therefore be very clear and obvious rather than relying on subtle variations in color. Or since they receive less visual information, perhaps they rely more on sound and smell cues.
Makes me think of the Jack Vance race which carried and played small musical instruments to compensate for their lack of facial expression. The type of instrument and the music played provided emotional cues.
To bees, flowers look like this in visible light…
…and like this in ultraviolet light.
An intelligent species capable of seeing in UV would have a distinct advantage when it came to espionage. Hidden messages could be written in chemical compounds that are only visible in UV, and those messages would be hidden from humans but blindingly obvious (pun intended) to them.
3. Ability to see in darkness/through water
Eyes capable of detecting infrared radiation would be able to see in the dark. I’ve always liked those infrared photographs with colors based on heat – white is the hottest, blue or violet the coolest. The only problem would be the detection of objects which are at the same ambient temperature as their surroundings – a rock on the floor, perhaps.
As for seeing in water… I don’t mind beautiful naked mer-people with long flowing hair, but I always wonder how they can see underwater. Water doesn’t transmit light as well as air, so even if they had a transparent eyelid (similar to the nictitating membrane) to protect the lenses of their eyes from saltwater, they’d still have difficulty seeing.
They could have relatively large eyes, as fish do, though an Ariel with huge bulging eyes would not have been as attractive. In fish, that also compensates for the lack of an neck; fish can’t turn their heads from side to side, so their eyes have a greater field of vision.
4. Ability to see gases
This might come in very handy in a world where there were pockets of dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide or hydrogen cyanide.
I once read a book about a girl who had an illness that made everything appear like glass to her – people and trees and buildings alike. Of course, like glass, these were also transparent. She could see the inner workings of everything, from sap rising in the stems of plants to tumors growing in people.
That ability could be modified a little – allowing an alien race to look through armor, outer coverings such as clothes or even flesh. I’m just not sure what it would be called, given that X-ray vision would be misleading and would immediately make people think of Superman. Maybe just “transparency” would do.
Flower photographs from here: http://www.naturfotograf.com/UV_OENO_BIE.html#top