By Mary Roach
The bestselling, acclaimed writer of Stiff takes at the curious, hilarious intersection of pleasure and disgust that's digestion
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The light-sensitive retina at the back of the eyeball contains 137 million cells that send messages to the brain, telling it what we are seeing. Of these, 130 million are rod44 45 THE NAKED WOMAN THE EYES shaped and concerned with black-and-white vision; the remaining 7 million are cone-shaped and facilitate colour vision. At any one moment these light-responsive cells can deal with one-and-a-half million simultaneous messages. Because it is so complex, it is hardly surprising that the eye is the part of the body that shows the least growth between birth and adulthood.
Around the pupil is the muscular, coloured iris, the contracting disc responsible for the changes in pupil size. This task is performed by involuntary muscles, so we can never deliberately or consciously control our pupil size. It is this fact that makes pupil expansion and contraction such a reliable guide to our emotional responses to visual images. Our pupils cannot lie. The colour of the iris varies considerably from person to person, but this is not due to a variety of pigments. Blue-eyed people do not possess blue eye pigment; they simply have less pigment than others, and this gives the impression of blueness.
Its precise shape has been of great importance in judging a woman's beauty, so much so that cosmetic operations to modify female nose shape have been in great demand for over half a century. Why should this be? What is so special about this part of the female anatomy? Why does Tennyson wax lyrical about 'her slender nose, tip-tilted like the petal of a flower'? It is all too clear why, in the evolution of our species, such features as wide childbearing hips, healthy glowing skin and ample breasts should have a powerful impact as primary signals of female appeal, but what possible evolutionary advantage could there be in the exact shape of a female nose?
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach