The visual system separates the responses to dark and light stimuli into OFF and ON channels. Recordings in visual thalamus indicate that these channels exhibit marked asymmetries in linearity: OFF responses grow roughly linearly with intensity decrements, but ON responses can saturate with small intensity increments. Here I show that this asymmetry is likely to originate in photoreceptors, as it follows from the classical description of their light responses and of their properties of light adaptation. Under this interpretation, the surprising aspect of the recordings is that the visual system does so little to change this asymmetry in subsequent stages.
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