Roger Hanlon, Universal Camouflage, and Studying Vision at the MBL in the 21st Century - Two mysteries: color blind camouflage and 2 dimensional perceptions generating 3 dimensional representations

At the nexus of the two visual perspectives (the beholder and the beheld) is the problem of color blind camouflage. Cuttlefish have been shown to be colorblind in experiments but are still able to color match their surroundings remarkably (Chiaoa, et al. 2011). Just how they do this is a central problem for Hanlon and his lab. Cuttlefish predators have remarkable visual systems, some can see polarized light, and many have better color vision than humans (a notoriously visual animal) (Hanlon 2011). Comparatively cuttlefish have impaired vision, yet they have to be able to extract sufficient information from the visual scene to implement a useful camo pattern.

Octopuses too have an impoverished visual system, compared to some of their predators. For example, they are unable to perceive in three dimensions. Yet their bodies take on complex three-dimensional shapes in order to match not only the color of their background but also the shape. While it is widely understood that two dimensional visual systems can solve some three dimensional problems, the detail and complexity of the body shapes taken by the octopus make it hard to understand how the animal is able to extract relevant 2-dimensional queues from a visual scene and implement them as 3-dimensional action plans for its body.