with Prof. Richard Gregory,

Sarah Cox Chester Zoo

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
FB Primal Eye

Text of original 1979/1980  Phantom Eye Theory Dissertation BSc Hons Surry University - Steve Nichols
The theory which I am about to explain relies mainly on scientific and physiological experimental evidence and valid observations of nature, and to much lesser extent upon philosophical a priori inference and by thought experiments (speculations). 
The story of Phantom Eye Theory begins with a group of scientists in the last century visited New Zealand and became interested in a type of lizard called the Sphenodon. This creature is remarkable in that it resembles animals of a distant age, older than the first dinosaurs. It is amongst the few species of living land vertebrates which still retain a functioning Pineal eye alongside the normal two ‘lateral’ eyes of the type that we humanoids possess. Evidence from fossils indicates that the pineal eye is a predecessor of modern ‘lateral’ vision, and that at one time this type of sense organ was the property of virtually all animals, including our pre‑human ancestors.
OUTLINE OF PHANTOM EYE THEORY (1979 B.Sc. Finals Dissertation, University of Surrey).
1. It is generally accepted that at an earlier stage of their evolutionary development, living vertebrates (including our direct though distant ancestors) possessed a functioning pineal eye (light sensitive organ) on the top of their skull. 
 2. The possibility that twin pineal eyes (pineal and parapineal) were  the general case amongst early land-vertebrates is touched upon later  in this work. Evidence from  studies of the Tuatara reptile suggest the single pineal to be normal, but  primitive fish species, of which a good example is the Lamprey, exhibit a  pair of eyes - the pineal and parapineal.  
3.  This eye was not constructed in the same way as modern lateral  eyes, since it had no muscles to control direction, no eyelid allowing it  to be closed, and no iris for focusing.  
 4.  This pineal organ seems to have been a fore-runner of lateral eyes, and would have been the primary light-sensitive organ. Perhaps the skin was also light sensitive in the infra-red spectrum.  
 5.  Creatures that have been found with functioning pineal eyes in present  times have invariably been cold-blooded, for instance fish and reptiles. It is likely that modern lateral eyes had replaced the pineal as the main  light-sensitive organ by the time of the first mammals and warm-blooded  creatures. It is important to bear in mind that sunlight has more direct  impact on the life-functions of cold-blooded animals than on warm-blooded, which carry around an inbuilt heat generating chemical factory.
 6.  This pineal organ, being the light-sensitive part of the creature's  body, was probably the main collector and distributor of sense-information  concerning events in the outside world (such as transition from day to  night, seasonally cycles from winter to summer, and immediate concerns like the proximity of predators, etc.). 
7.  For reasons that will become clear, this “proto-eye” can be considered  as the main sensory site for gathering of information needed to govern the creature's behaviour in response to changes in the environment. I argue that  it is likely to have been the place (interface) in which any `awareness'  that the creature had of things outside itself would reside. You could  perhaps describe it as a “spotlight of consciousness”. 
8.  The era I am looking back to is from the Mesozoic age 310 million years ago to the Jurassic age, 180 million years past. Phantom Eye theory does assume the basic soundness of neo-Darwinian evolution as a theory. From that premise,  I assume that we as primates and mammals have a common descent from Cotylosauria (stem-reptiles) shared with many other animals such as birds, crocodilia and so on. 
 9  Our lizard-like ancestors were cold-blooded and so would move about  only during the day when there was sufficient heat to supply the body with  energy. The colour of the animal's skin may also possibly have changed  according to conditions of the prevailing light. 
10.  We know that the pineal eye helped the creatures to determine the  presence of predators, because of scientific studies carried out on the  walking fossil, Tuatara (Sphaenodon Punctatus) which involved covering  the functioning pineal eye of young animals with metal foil, and noting  changes from its normal habits and behaviour.   
11.  The pineal eye has also been shown to assist the creature in knowing  when to move away from excessive sunlight into the shade, and when to  seek greater exposure to sunlight. 
12.  The sexual behaviour and breeding patterns of these primitive animals  were also in accordance with the yearly cycle. Changes in the seasons  were also detected by noting the variations in radiation emitted by the sun. 
13.  More generalised and pervasive functions such as storage and use of  any body energy, together with timing of body movement, seem to have been  monitored and regulated by this ever-open `eye'. Reptiles only become  active and begin to run about after they have warmed up their bodies sufficiently by basking or by exposure to warm surfaces on the ground.  
14.  Their pineal eye told them when and where to find heat, and since there  was some elementary visual field, it could perhaps detect sudden  movements or shifts of light within their view that informed of  any impending danger. 
15.  There can have been no point of separation between wake and sleep  in these early ancestors. Their attention was constantly fixed by this pineal eye (more often than not upwards) which it was impossible to close.  Self-volition about when and where to move would have been fairly  restricted, and would have varied according to the state of light that they were registering. 
16.  The central role played by this pineal sense-organ seems to me very suggestive of the role of “mind” in humans. Our conscious activity  decides and determines timing and execution of various functions and  motor-activity of the body, whereas the pineal apparatus affected these  responses in early reptiles by glandular and electro-chemical reactions in response to the chemical photo-stimulus of the environment. 
17.  Phantom Eye theory argues that the early pineal apparatus acted as a physical mind' governing the behaviour of early vertebrates. The pineal  apparatus clearly had a role in the co-ordination of perception and  subsequent reaction to this information. I will develop the argument that  the abstract processes that typify human mental life are modelled on processes once carried out by the physical cellular pineal sense-organ. 
18.  It is worth pointing out that the precise functions of the pineal eye remain something of an enigma to modern science.  "In fact", according to Bellairs, "there is hardly another organ in the  body which has so stubbornly resisted researches to elucidate its  significance."  * The Life of Reptiles Vol. II, A. Bellairs.  
19.  Evolutionary  ophthalmics is a notoriously difficult area of science,  since soft tissues such as nerve material rarely survive in fossil  evidence, and the details we have of early ophthalmic structures are  necessarily sketchy. The evidence concerning Tuatara has been vital to me  in constructing this theory. 
20.  The pineal eye as sole and central provider of light-information and  sense-data became gradually superseded by the more sophisticated `lateral'  eyes, which as well as having stereoscopic advantage, also had facility for muscular control and a protective lid. 
21. My conjecture is that the pineal eye, although still present and  operative, over the course of millennia, lost its functions as main provider of light-information to the new lateral sense-organs. As its purposes became lost, the light-sensitive tip of the pineal or epiphyseal complex (gland, stalk and eye) either sank back through the skull-opening to form part of the gland, or alternatively, atrophied and withered away over many generations. 
22.  As the physical pineal lost functionality and its role over the ages,  I suggest that its functions were assumed by mental or abstract skills and capacities. 
23.  It is likely that the focusing of lightwave band by the iris allowed  far greater spatial awareness, and a clear visual field. Warm-blooded  animals would certainly have not needed a pineal eye of the nature I have  described, and its disappearance can be seen as part of a wider process  allowing self-volitional warm-blooded lifeforms to come into existence. 
24.  Early mammals were nocturnal. The fact that they could function independently of environmental warmth and light increased their survival  chances. Unlike reptiles, they helped to protect their young. 
25.  It is worth in this paragraph briefly examining the known  psychological and physiological functions of the pineal gland as studied  in human subjects. Psychological correlates of the hormonal activities  of the gland are thought to be associated with light sensitivity, the  timing of the oestrus and menstrual cycles, circadian rhythms, sleep patterns, imagination, the onset of the processes of puberty, and  perhaps other phenomena.  
26.  It is the wide-ranging nature of the effects of pineal secretions  that I wish to draw attention to. Further details can be found in  the regular reports of Professor Axelrod's Symposium of Pineology, and  from standard physiological texts. 
27.  Returning to the experiments conducted by covering or removing  the pineal eye of young Tuataras ( since Victorian times when most of the  scientific data was collected, Sphenodon has become one of the most  joined to or contiguous with the phantom eye. Even if the pineal gland  is surgically removed, the phantom ‘mind-organ’ still retains all its properties as the conscious focus within the body system. 
28.  When the primal eyes of young Tuatara were removed, sex glands were found to mature earlier, (Dendy, 1898). There is parallel medical evidence to suggest that in cases of pineal tumours or calcification in humans,  a condition known as precocious puberty occurs.    
29.  It is worth noting that the pineal eyes of young Tuataras are  functioning, but they seem to lose function in older Tuataras. This  supports the idea of evolutionary atrophying, and incidentally lends  some weight to Haekel's Theory of Recapitulation, which we will touch upon later in this section. Tuataras, incidentally, have fully functioning lateral eyes alongside their primal eye. 
30.  This accumulation of evidence helps to confirm my view that at an  even earlier time than the 200 million odd years that Tuatara have survived, the pineal (median/ parietal/ old/ primal or primary) eye had a central and a very generalised role, in fact almost an all-pervasive role, admitting the flow of light-data that governed many different aspects of animals' behaviour. 
31.  What is also remarkable (from modern studies of the pineal gland) is that despite having influence over such a variety of different effects and processes, the pineal gland is joined to the rest of the brain  directly by only one neural tract, which connects it to the peripheral autonomic nervous system.  
I wish to turn now from this anatomical discussion, back to the key idea of Phantom Eye theory, and try to explain how it can be that a non-physical sense organ can exist. 
32.  In one sense it matters not if we conceive of the ‘phantom eye’ as  the ‘thinking self' or in Descartes' language, as the Sens Commun,  where all the information from our senses is bound together and  perceived. It is permissible to consider the phantom of the primal  eye as being a kind of trick or illusion of nature, or as a trace  memory, reconstructed from primeval structures embedded deep within the brain. 
33. The pineal apparatus grew up with the brain, since the earliest  times. It cannot have been just a one-way process, not just ‘looking  out’ or ‘looking in’. A two-way interaction must have been the case,  with the information fed into the brain shaping the development of the physical lobes of that organ over millions of years, and the need for  greater sophistication of processing of light information eventually giving rise to the more powerful and flexible lateral eyes. 
34.  In other words, for a long time the brain developed in close conjunction with its main supply/supplier of sense information. The fact that the vestigial pineal body is still with us gives proof to the durability of the association.   
35.  The story or pattern seems to be of an evolution from direct physical chemical-response behaviour, towards abstract, volitional, or self-control of behaviour.  
36.  I would argue that abstract perception (such as being able to close your eyes, and imagine a picture, for example the image of a person) without there being any direct physical stimuli in front of you, or any actual sense-data, is not possible unless you have an organ (part of  your body) which is itself abstract, and has no spatial properties or boundaries.  
37.  An organ which once existed as part of the greater whole, and was central to the way most sensory information was gathered and co-ordinated, is the obvious (and seemingly the only) candidate for this role. 
C) THIRD PARTY INVISIBLE  - A rider to Descartes' Argument from Illusion. 
38. It is helpful to return to the writings of Descartes: 
"And there were countless other cases like these, in which I found the external senses to be deceived in their judgement; and not only the external sense, but the internal senses as well. What (experience) can  be more intimate than pain? Yet I sometimes heard, from people who had  had a leg or arm cut off, that they still seemed now and then to feel pain in the part of the body that they lacked; so it seemed in my own case not to be certain that a limb was in pain, even if I felt  pain in it." 
39.  The above passage [taken from Descartes' Sixth Meditation on the Essence of Material things: the Real distinction between Mind and Body] contains the basic theme of what has come to be known as the Argument from Illusion. He also cites the example of a stick that seems to bend when dipped into water, because of a visual trick played by light and the eyes. 
40.  Descartes' main intention is to show that because of the occurrence of various illusions, the senses cannot ultimately be relied upon to provide true representations of the world. Furthermore, the 'Argument from Illusion' suggests that perception cannot be a direct awareness of the real properties of physical objects, but only of appearances. 
41.  Attempts have been made, by Austin amongst others, to try to dismiss the evidence from illusions by trying to reduce all such reports to terms of physical distortion of perception. For instance,  it does seem to be true that most hallucinations occur only in certain circumstances, such as when the recipient's metabolism has  been disturbed by drug action or a lack of sleep. 
42. As response to Austin is to be found in the words of Edwards (* Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, p133. ) "Phantom limbs do not seem to be covered by any of these points; one can hardly say that the pains and sensations are `the images of genuine ones' ... they are genuine enough. Nor are the victims suffering from drugs or delirium. The usual physiological explanation is that the  nerves from the toes remain in the untouched part of the limb and,  being imitated at the stump, send impulses to the brain similar to those they would send if the toes were being crushed or as if the receptors located in the missing leg were being otherwise stimulated."  
43. Even if we were to accept these various mechanistic accounts of  illusion, Descartes' case remains undamaged. The feeling of pain in the toe is an actual experience, and is essentially the same as if the toe had been present. It is ludicrous to say that a pain is felt in the brain since brain tissue itself is insensitive (a pin stuck into the brain would not be felt). 
44. It is equally absurd to claim that any pain is being felt in the nerve endings of the stump, since this is not where the pain is being reported. There may be some causal relationship with stump nerve-endings, but the location of the feelings (in the phantom toe) is quite specific. 
45. It is useful here to give a summary of the medical facts. Most  amputees report feelings “in” the amputated limb following an operation, and the effect  is considered perfectly normal by doctors. 
46.  Occasionally a painless phantom sensation can become painful and  bedevil a patient's life. A cause is seldom found and attempts to treat the condition by physical treatments, such as by trying to divide the pain-carrying sensory tracts, are usually to no avail and are not justified. Attempts to ameliorate the underlying  psychological problems are usually more important than the local treatment to the stump itself. 
47.  Reaction to amputation varies according to the personality of the individual. Only three percent of patients develop long-term painful phantom limbs. These are generally active adults over thirty-five who have lost their limbs as a result of a trauma at work or in war.  
Such an amputee may: “feel a personal loss, not only of a valued functional part, but  also of body completeness.”  * Companion to Medical Studies Vol. 3/2, R. Passmore, 53.12. 
48. This evidence is a useful analogy to my own argument, in that if a motor-organ can be felt to be present although not there, then similarly an organ of perception can still be felt to be present.  
49.  A sighted man who loses the use of his eyes is still able to `perceive' visual images, although they are in fact mental reconstruction's or memories of perception that was once the property of his eyes.  
50. The apparent difference between these examples and my theory is that the pineal eye is not a functioning part of our body that has been lost or amputated. However, Haekel’s Theory of Recapitulation shows that the trace of a pineal eye might be more than a property of our distant ancestor, and that we actually develop and then lose a parietal skull-opening whilst in the womb. It has been both grown and lost during  the course of our current lifespan (therefore can exist as a phantom).
51. Once again, I wish to make it clear that I resist any identification between the location of attention (soul/mind/I) and the pineal gland itself. I consider the gland to be only one point of the human matrix that highly protected species on Earth) as well  as being oblivious to possible predators, the subject animals displayed behaviour noticed to be generally more aimless.  
52.  The significance of the pineal gland can be metaphorically likened to the stump of the leg, and shares the same type of role in the production of the phantom eye effect as the stump plays in producing a phantom arm or leg. If the leg had been severed at a higher point, the sensations and feelings from the phantom limb would still be present, and presumably not substantially changed. 
53.  A possible explanation for the pineal organ's starting to develop and then atrophying during our embryonic stage of life is given by Beer in his book Embryos and Ancestors. The Theory of  Recapitulation argues that to a great extent, the stages of  embryonic development retrace the history of the evolution of the species.  
54.  During intrauterine development we pass through stages that seem to be fish-like, reptilian and non-primate mammal, before we reach a recognizably human state. Human embryos have gill-slits at one point, which disappear as they move out of the fish-tage of evolution.  We also, each one of us, develop and then lose a tail!
55.  It also seems the case that the embryos of different species are indistinguishable at  certain stages of formation.  
56.  The parietal opening or foramen, however, is not lost whilst we are in the womb and takes about a year to close up after our birth. 
57.  Ernst Haeckel was a nineteenth-century German anatomist whose doctrine of Recapitulation (or Biogenetic Law) has gone in and out  of scholarly fashion. Whether it is wholly or partly sound, this theory does seem a useful model as to how Natural Selection operates on individuals. 
58.  My comparison between phantom limbs and the phantom eye is to some extent analogous, since there are clear differences. Similarly, the Theory of Recapitulation can be taken as corroborative evidence, but my account of mind does not rely just on the validity of Haeckel's theory. I wish to establish by the phantom limb example that it is indeed possible to experience sensations from parts of the body that do not constitute of in any part physical (either organic or inorganic) substance. 
59.  Another way of looking at the phantom eye is that this non-material organ of unitary sense is contained in the genetic pattern or matrix alongside all the other aspects of the body-system. The brain expects or assumes it to be present, since for so long  the pineal sense-organ was actually present. 
60.  You might even say that the brain imagines it still to be there, but it is not an imagination that takes any effort, for it arises naturally out of the (reptilian) deep structures of the brain and of its biological organisation. 
61. There also is a cultural and linguistic input to the equation. Common memory of time when the pineal eye existed is so remote that it has long been replaced by "I", the conscious identity of a self.  
62.  What I assert is that abstract and non-physical structures have taken over from (replaced / arisen out of) an earlier physical organ of conscious attention. 

My contention was then, and is now, that ‘mind’ or ‘self-referential consciousness’ evolved in direct inverse proportion to the regression and disappearance of the pineal eye. Another way to phrase this is to say that the brain of living vertebrates was intrinsically geared to receiving information from the primitive eye via the stalk attached pineal gland, and although it stopped receiving direct physical stimulus and input from the pineal sense‑organ, it was still able to regulate body‑decisions, and enable the organism to behave in an appropriate way in response to its surrounding environment. In short, abstract modelling or reflective thinking had arrived on the evolutionary scene.