Prof. Leonid Yaroslavsky from Tel Aviv University believes that humans may have an ability to "see" colors and shapes - with their skin.

He outlines his 'optic-less imaging model' in a chapter of a new book, "Advances in Information Optics and Photonics", and even says it could lead to a new form of optical imaging technology that beats the limitations of today's lens-based imaging devices. This model, he says, may also explain how a controversial primordial instinct might have evolved over millions of years.

Conceptually, 'skin vision' exists in nature, he says, and uses the examples of plants that orient themselves to light, pit vipers who use infrared vision and reptiles who possess skin sensors -- all "see" without the use of eyes.

Skin vision in humans would likely be a natural atavistic ability involving light-sensitive cells in our skin connected to neuro-machinery in the body and in the brain, explains Prof. Yaroslavsky.

"Some people have claimed that they possess the ability to see with their skin," says Prof. Yaroslavsky. Though biologists usually dismiss the possibility, there is probably a reasonable scientific explanation for "skin vision." Once understood, he believes, skin vision could lead to new therapies for helping the blind regain sight and even read.

Yaroslavsky is currently developing imaging simulation theories using computer software, theories which may lead to future devices with practical applications. Such devices, he says, would have distinct advantages over conventional optics-based imaging. Applications could include special sensors for detecting radiation at sea and in airports to detect terrorist threats, new night-vision devices, or near-weightless mechanisms to steer spaceships to stars beyond our own galaxy.

Traditional imaging lenses only work within a limited range of electromagnetic radiation. They are still very costly, limited by weight and field of view. Requiring no lenses, optics-less imaging devices could be adapted to any kind of radiation and any wavelength, says Prof. Yaroslavsky. They could essentially work with a "bionic" 360-degree field of view and their imaging capability determined by computer power rather than the laws of light diffraction.

Before real-world applications can be developed, however, Prof. Yaroslavsky hopes to convince biologists to take a leap of faith and delve deeper into the mechanisms of optics-less vision. Their input could propel imaging research to the next level, he believes.