2 Possibilities in physiological optics

Authored by: David R. Williams , Sarah Walters

Handbook of Visual Optics

Print publication date:  April  2017
Online publication date:  February  2017

Print ISBN: 9781482237856
eBook ISBN: 9781315373034
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter speculates about future directions of physiological optics, identifying a few of the grand challenges that we think might offer the richest rewards, though they may also rank among the most difficult to achieve. The cliché that prediction is hard, especially when it is about the future, bears repeating here. Nonetheless, we have decided to plunge ahead, driven by the ­conviction that short-term planning for the next ­experiment always benefits from a longer-term vision for the larger ­scientific and technological goals our field could eventually realize. Optimized investment decisions in science and engineering require a risk–benefit analysis, whether undertaken by those who provide resources or those who use them. Deciding what criteria to deploy to define benefit is by itself controversial, ranging from the value of advancing basic science to improving eye care to realizing commercial success. We have tended to favor challenges here where fundamental advances in vision science are most likely to result in eye care improvements. Risk is equally difficult to calibrate. At the time of this writing, the pendulum has swung in the direction of risk aversion, at least in many Western countries, with increasing resource competition in science and ­engineering demanding increasingly compelling evidence that each new endeavor will succeed. One of the motivations for writing this chapter is to remind ourselves that there are many potentially transformative benefits from investing our energy and resources in physiological optics, if only we are willing to accept the risks required to secure them. While the list of challenges we have selected is idiosyncratic, we hope that it will be useful, especially to young scientists who are pondering where they might have the biggest impact. We feel that the chapter will have succeeded if a single independent thinker concludes that our crystal ball is murky and is inspired to innovate in an entirely different and productive direction.

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