Gentle giant

Created by Nathan 6 months ago

I first encountered Mike's brilliant work as an undergraduate student working on my thesis on fly vision with Cole Gilbert at Cornell University. Mike's research stood out immediately for its elegance, insightfulness, and quiet wit. When I became a graduate student at Arizona State University, I devoured his book Animal Eyes. Therein lay the same clarity of thought and beautiful prose, cast over a wider range of topics. It takes full mastery of a subject to communicate the complexities of vision in a way that feels rich yet full of simple, even obvious truths. This was one of Mike's legacies, to bring a clarity and wonderment to even the most complex of mysteries. As one might imagine, as a graduate student, Mike felt like a giant, both intellectually and physically (I had no idea how tall he actually was at the time).

Later, as a faculty member interested in spider vision, I reached out to Mike with questions of my own, only to find that although he was indeed a giant of intellect, he was a gentle and enthusiastic one, happy to offer advice and insight, and still excited by even the smallest details of how animals see. Over time, his inspiration went from the page to the inbox, and later, to conversations in person at Backaskog. We were still "in conversation" this fall about arachnid vision, work that my lab couldn't have even conceived of were it not for his brilliant breakthroughs in the late 60s, and his foundational summaries of work in the 80s (more than just summaries, because they were always full of new calculations, new measurements, and new ideas).

He will be sorely missed, but I am confident that his mark will forever shape what we know and what we ask about how animals, human and not, see the world.