1. A theory of visual intensity discrimination is proposed in terms of the photochemical events which take place at the moment when a photosensory system already adapted to the intensity I is exposed to the just perceptibly higher intensity I+ΔI. Unlike previous formulations this theory predicts that the fraction ΔI/I, after rapidly decreasing as I increases, does not increase again at high intensities, but reaches a constant value which is maintained even at the highest intensities.
2. The theory describes quantitatively the intensity discrimination data of Drosophila, of the bee, and of Mya.
3. With some carefully considered exceptions the intensity discrimination data of the human eye fall into two classes: those with small test areas or with red light, which form a single continuous curve describing the function of the retinal cones alone, and those with larger areas, and with white, orange, and yellow light, which form a double curve showing a clear inflection point, and represent the separate function of the rods at intensities below the inflection point and of the cones at intensities above it.
4. The theory describes all these data quantitatively by treating the rods and cones as two independently functioning photosensory systems in accordance with the well established duplicity idea.
5. In terms of the theory the data of intensity discrimination give critical information about the order of both the photochemical and dark reactions in each photosensory system. The reactions turn out to be variously monomolecular and bimolecular for the different animals.