Imagine if you will..a world where humans had large black pupils that covered most of their eye like the picture below

enter image description here

The question:

What would these humans see and could they see more/better/worse than us?

Would their vision be obstructed when looking around because it might block part of their pupil?

What are the social implications of these humans having black eyes?

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    $\begingroup$ If these really are huge pupils and not just black irises, they would quickly go blind, and see nothing at all. Or, if you prefer a twinge of irony, all they'd perceive is "blackness" (nothing). If they're simply black irises, they'd see as usual (just like people with dark brown irises don't perceive things differently than people with light blue ones). If you don't want your huge-pupil-people to go blind, you'll have to put them on a different, much dimmer world. A Twilight Zone, you might say. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't this question better fit biology.SE? I mean it's really three questions you put here (alas the first two can be combined), so those first two would fit biology.SE, the third one could be a fit for here $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ This question falls firmly in the category of creature-design which is widely accepted as on topic for the site. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 14:16
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    $\begingroup$ @James I was more referring to the fact that this question might actually be scientific and real enough to get answers on the biology.SE site instead of getting taken down like the majority of things that land on here - I admit my wording is terrible; I imagine there'd be more people able to go into detail such as how it changes view and wavelengths and perception and all that fancy stuff $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ Is that Lyta Alexander's eye? $\endgroup$
    – Nacht
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 23:36

10 Answers 10


They'd go blind, very quickly

A pupil that big allows very large amounts of light to enter the eye. In extremely low light conditions, this is a great adaptation since it permits the maximum amount of light to reach the retina. However, in any other lighting conditions, this is a huge disadvantage because it prevents the eye from managing how much light it takes in. They will need to continually squint in bright light to keep themselves from being blinded. Imagine permanent image burn on the back of your eyes; this is their view at practically all times in conditions humans would consider normal.

Any kind of sudden bright light will cause them considerable difficulty.

Obscured Pupil

For the portions of the pupil behind behind an eyelid, the person won't even notice they can't see there, similar to how normal people don't notice that they can see their own noses. It's just how they see things and won't notice a difference.


Socially, if everyone has black eyes like this, it's normal. Just like people with blonde hair in a nation of blonde hair don't notice anything different about each other. Interactions between the black-pupiled people and other peoples will be strained at first but probably work out, eventually.

Alternative Structure

Instead of having a monstrously large pupil, the sclera and iris could also be black with a normal sized pupil. Building an eye this way maintains a normal human's adaptability to different lighting conditions but also gives the desired "black eye" the OP is looking for.

This can be achieved by introducing significant amounts of melanin in the iris and sclera. Brown eyed humans already have this, just bump up the amount of melanin.

  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz, Don't we have that already with the rods and cones in our eyes? Maybe you could do some "post-processing" in the brain that adapts to different light levels and prevents washed out areas. Maybe? $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ My primary concern is how you'd prevent permanent burnout of the rods and cones with an enormous pupil like this. They would have to take the same kinds of precautions that eye surgery patients have to take when their iris is fully dilated. $\endgroup$
    – Green
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ @JDługosz, our retinas can't cope with that. An very different kind of retina is quite imaginable that would handle it, but the need for different kinds of sensory cell would have a cost, probably in significantly reduced resolution. As someone who has that for other reasons ... trust me when I say you don't want it. An iris or diaphragm is a very simple and effective means of controlling light intensity, and has evolved separately in squid and in mammals. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 14:08
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    $\begingroup$ @green clearly it would not work if that was the only single difference. The rest of the eye would need to be updated to match. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 16:36
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf I did look them up. Horse eyes have an elongated pupil and a huge brown iris, neither of which is all too uncommon in the animal kingdom. Visible sclera is the exception rather than rule and, according to a popular theory, evolved specifically to aid communication between early humans (and I suspect it has to do with the proliferation of fovea and the need to turn your eyes constantly). $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 10:08

A huge opening with suitable lens to match would be a much larger aperture, providing for lower-light vision and poorer depth of field. However, with no way to adjust the aperture and no other changes, it would not handle differing light intensity.

The implication is that (a) there is no bright light and you always want the highest exposure possible; or (b) there is some different mechanism to deal with different light intensity.

Some ideas for that include:

  • variable opacity: a neutral-density filter or sunglasses, that can be instantly tuned. This directly replaces the iris.
  • the change in gain of the pixels can happen fast enough to make no other mechanism necessary, unlike our own cells which take many minutes to adjust.
  • the range of brightness handled is so wide that it requires no adjustment. A different underlying technology might make this more natural for the solution.
  • some pixels are for bright light and some for low. Rather than spoiling the image, out-of-range pixels are ignored in the imaging process. (Our own eyes have separate rods and cones.)
  • the eye works more like the “windsock” design of some spiders. The retina has different areas for bright or dark that are positioned over the imaging-forming zone, and can be tilted as well to attinuate the light via Lambert’s Law (and increase the resolution!)

Adding the link for ND filters I noticed that it mentions

These are used on catadioptric telescopes mentioned above and in any system that is required to work at 100% of its aperture (usually because the system is required to work at its maximal angular resolution).

So, there are reasons why an instrument would need to work at a large aperture. This implies that there might be real advantages for why an eye is built this way. Something to keep in mind for alien eyes!

Finally, I’d like to point out that the compound eyes of flys etc. seem to do just fine without an aperture adjustment, which would need to be employed on each lens individually! They must use some other means to cope, right?

  • $\begingroup$ Doesn't a larger aperture lead to a larger depth of field? $\endgroup$
    – Kasper
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ @kmm no; a pinhole focuses at all depth; a larger aperture reduces it. With the biggest light-drinking setting (e.g. f/1.8) it’s hard to get a whole face in focus—sharp eye but fuzzy ear, or if turned to not face directly at the camera then the eyes are ar different distances. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Oct 6, 2016 at 17:05
  • $\begingroup$ For some reason when I read "lens", I thought of contact lenses and now I can't get the idea of people with this type of eye wearing sunglasses and specialed lenses. $\endgroup$
    – Necessity
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ @kmm Compare this answer to What is aperture, and how does it affect my photographs? on Photography. Keep in mind that optically, only a single plane can ever be fully focused (and worse, the focal plane varies with wavelength, so color); everything else is out of focus to a lesser or greater degree. In photography, we consider something to be "out of focus" when the focus error is significant enough that the resultant blur is noticable at some particular viewing size and distance, but that's a largely arbitrary distinction. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Oct 9, 2016 at 10:07

Others suggest that humans with such large pupils would go blind very quickly. While this would be the case for humans with the same eye construction as us otherwise, I propose an alternative:

A chemically (or electrochemically) alterable vitreous humor.

The vitreous humor is the jellylike substance that fills most of the eye. For us, this substance remains relatively unchanged and largely inert through most of our lives. While I'm stepping a bit out of my depth in biology and chemistry, hopefully the following concept gives you an idea that you can research in greater depth to meet your needs.

If a chemical were added to the vitreous humor, perhaps a something like a polymer, it might be possible to adjust the opacity of the vitreous humor, and thus how much light actually reaches the retina. If the retina (or perhaps even an external organ, possibly including the skin near the eye) detects too much light, an electrochemical reaction occurs that charges the vitreous humor and causes the normally amorphous polymer to crystallize to some degree (ideally this would be an analog behavior, with the body being able to control the degree of crystallization based on light). When the polymer crystallizes, less light passes through it, and so less light reaches the retina.

There are a few consequences to this though:

  1. Visual acuity in bright light may be reduced; the crystalline structure may scatter as well as reflect/absorb light, so the path from pupil to retina is no longer as straightforward and the perceived image may be blurry.
  2. With large pupils, the reflection effect (such as what you see in cats' eyes in the dark, or in peoples' eyes with camera flashes and the like) will be greater -- their eye will less likely be inky black as shown in your picture, but more of a dark reddish color.
  3. In bright light, the reflection and refraction of the crystalline polymer may additionally tint the eye to the color of the crystalline polymer. It's possible this could be black, to help maintain the black appearance of the pupil; a black polymer would also be good at absorbing excess light.
  4. The crystallization reaction would likely not be instantaneous; if it had evolved tens of thousands of years ago to simply adjust to the slow light changes of moving into/out of shelter, something like turning on an electric light in a dark room could be even more painful to them than it is to us (they would probably also find strobe lights unpleasant).

To more fully answer your questions...

  1. They would likely see better than us in dark environments. With the large pupils, their eyes would be able to take in and process even the dimmest light. As outlined in consequence #1, they would probably have worse vision than us in bright light, unless the polymer's crystalline form simply absorbed the light vs. scattering it.

    The caveat is that with such a large aperture (pupil) their depth of field would be smaller... their ciliary muscle (that adjusts the lens) would need to be able to react faster and be stronger; otherwise they would have trouble focusing between near/mid/far ranges.

  2. Their vision wouldn't necessarily be obstructed; on the contrary, it would probably be slightly better, as they would likely have more sharp "central" vision, and less peripheral vision. Any physical obstruction by their eyelids/etc would be naturally filtered out as their brain processed it.

  3. As others have said, the social implications will depend on whether these humans are the primary/majority of the species, or if they are a lesser percentage of the population. I'd imagine anything between 20-50% would result in getting picked on similar to redheads, while below 20% would have more serious social repercussions such as discrimination and marginalization.

    If their eyes do indeed function poorer in bright light, it's possible that it could be seen as a disability or genetic defect. Depending on the general social structure of your world's population, this could result in better acceptance more along the lines of how we treat disabled people today, or even greater marginalization and possibly even attempts at sterilization and eradication.

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    $\begingroup$ I was just about to answer with this rough point and then move on to mention the "heals fast" approach and multiple layers of receptors wired in. The second one would allow a shadowed retina and multiple depths of sensors, providing a basis for focus correction, even with a fixed lens. $\endgroup$
    – The Nate
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 4:20

Slightly different take

What if instead of being black due to the pupil being open, say that the proteins in their lens instead of filtering out just UV Light - adapt a filter that filters out a lot of the visible light spectrum(possibly due to increased sun exposure or hostile desert like conditions), this may lead to the ability to see in the red-to-infrared section.

This increased opacity in the lenses may cause the giant dilated pupils as less light would get past the dark lens, and it would adjust to let in more of the other light spectrum. This may lead to an increased visual acuity in the bright sun - but they may be completely unable to see in the dark. Think of wearing extremely dark sunglasses. The colors they see may be completely monochrome, or if this was far down the line of adaptation, they may be able to see some of the infrared range.



Because of seeing in some infrared, there may be a stigmata in social circles, as they may have been outsiders that would live/wander the desert. Also in certain light conditions, they may see through regular clothing. They would probably be color blind to many colors we see, and sometimes see some dark colors as bright white, this could lead to circumstances as seeing many obscured stains - think dirt or pizza sauce on a black shirt, this could lead to a view that regular people are "dirty" as they would see many of the things we would not clean regular without seeing the dirt or stains. They may be able to see veins or features under the skin, this brings to mind lie detecting seeing blood flush in the face.


A group of people with these abilities, may develop flashlights that cast ir light, that only they can see, and regular people would not.

  • $\begingroup$ That would be a better explanation for white eyes than black. $\endgroup$
    – The Nate
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 4:21
  • $\begingroup$ UV sight may be white they say people that have had cataracts and have had their lens removed(which filters out some uv skepticalartist.com/2013/06/25/…) may see some of the uv spectrum, but IR filters are certainly dark-red to black in color - you can make one with the film from inside a floppy disk. $\endgroup$
    – Mateo
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 9:47
  • $\begingroup$ The vitreous humor flouresces, so it would take more than just removing the lens to see uv. $\endgroup$
    – The Nate
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ @TheNate but wouldn't the fluorescence of the UV in the vitreous humor result in the emission of visible-spectrum light that their retina picks up? Therefore even if their retinas do not specifically perceive UV, the standard S, M, and L cone cells would pickup the fluorescing emissions and thus they would be able to perceive UV light (even if indirectly) $\endgroup$
    – Doktor J
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ Unless the glowing is localized to the retina, the light will affect most of it, causing a general blanket intensity. That's worth something, but would be far worse than what's considered legally blind in the U.S.. Come to think of it, Having never actually proved it's the v.h. glowing, specifically, I guess it could be the lens. (Cones that function a bit into the near infrared is actually a trait in the human gene pool, now. The trade-off is some color discernment in the visible range.) $\endgroup$
    – The Nate
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 17:48

You would also need to adapt the retina in some way. Perhaps its possible to have a much higher dynamic range retina which can handle the increased amount of light let in by this giant pupil, while at the same time being more sensitive to details in shadows. See HDR photography for examples, like https://owlbrainwave.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/hdr-example.jpg

  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't add anything over previous comments and answers that start with this observation and then develop into something. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 9:05
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz This was posted about the same time as the two highest-voted answers, and the three answers were the first answers to this question. I'm not sure how much more "previous" something needs to (or can) be. The other answers simply went into more detail on the subject. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ @frostfyre It's ok. He's just like that. $\endgroup$
    – Innovine
    Commented Oct 7, 2016 at 14:41

They would need a less sensitive retina, which would imply less accurate vision. Alternately, they could do with a less tranparent cornea, vitreous body, or acqueous humour, which would also dampen their vision (unless there is some mechanism that changes the opacity of any of those to fit the amount of light).

The focus of their vision would be much less precise in both cases, too, so they would need to either be myopic, or have really good iris muscles, to adapt focus for different distances. They would probably be nocturnal people, trying to live at night and avoid sunlight. Other things unchanged, they might, like albinos and blind people, prefer to work as entertainers or musicians, professions that demand night shifts or dark work environments, or depend more on hearing than seeing.

There is going to be social prejudice against them unless they are the majority of people; if they are nocturnal, such prejudice will probably be even more intense.


They could have several "eyelids" that filter out some of the light with one or more only allowing light of a certain polarization. That way at night they could fully open the eye to see all the remaining light while at increased light levels they could filter out some to reduce glare.

Depending on the kinds of filters available they could be better off under certain circumstances. For example light reflected by water often polarized and so the glare created by such reflections could be reduced with polarized filters. Honey bees use the ability to see polarized light for orientation.


1) DEPENDS. Real world biology works different.
Pupil is actually the "hole" on the iris. It lets different ammount of outer light reflections reaching inner side of the eyes. The inside of a human eye is covered with a layer called 'retina', this contains the specific bodypart, which turns outer light reflections into electric signals possible to be processed by the brain.

First dependency: Is the retina same or better/less developed?
Second dependency: Is the brain image processing is same or better/less developed?
Third dependency: What is the light reflections perceptable around?
I believe this latter one is the point you are interested in, as visibly "big-black-eyed" creatures adapt better to low light (even if smallest measuarble ammount. With no emitted light, an eye structure is useless) environments. Should you expose them to overwhelming type and ammount of light (please everyone, don't do that), it will temp/perm damage their eyes or even brain.
Multiple other dependencies still follows, but the question is covered.

2) What do you mean at "looking around"?
The basic mechanics you can discover also with just a hand of yours using as obstacle, positioned in front of you.
In short, if you turn "your lens" behind a covering material (even if partly), it will of course block you from getting a complete image.
Forth dependency: Distribution of light processing types on retina? If ever wondered, why our retina exactly goes wide or pointy, it is because the different location of percepting 'sticks'. In sharp light, the middle ones work better, in dim light, perimeter ones work better. You can try to read a digital clock panel by night with no room lights on. You will be able to get clear numbers only if not focusing on the panel, but just close to it.
So in dim light, if the pupil is wide, and location of dim light processing units located on perimeter area, image is obstructed in the ration of blocked line cone of sight related to completely unblocked. The brain mght still try to complete the vision with memory stored segments, however it will be not a real-time vision, but this will not necessarily be known to the person. Might require extensive knowledge on the topic.

3) DEPENDS. On social culture.
It absolutely depends on what the people associate individually or collectively with this specifics. They can be superhumans, falsely mistified gifteds, disadvantage holders...it comes mostly from history and folklore.


All the other answers focus on light sensitivity, but I think there is another important issue:

They would see everything very blurry, because a large pupil requires a large lens behind it to focus the light, and such a lens might just not fit into the eye (for comparison: a normal human's lens is bigger than the pupil, even when the pupil is at its maximum size).

The larger lens also means that there will be less space behind the lens, which moves the focal point further back and thus requires an even stronger lens than humans have (so either it has to be even thicker relative to its diameter or made out of another material entirely).

And even if such a large lens fits into the eye, there would be hardly any space left for muscles that contract or expand it, preventing any adaption, i.e. they are permanently near sighted or far sighted.

I'm not going to answer questions 2 and 3, as others have done that well already.


This is an actual condition (assuming its a black iris). The iris should not have too much of an affect on vision, and it is very common in the animalia kingdom.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you provide references to this actual condition? It would make a better answer. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 5:21
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    $\begingroup$ Aniridia is real, but it doesn't change the sclera. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 4:01

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