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Potato eyes, as far as I know, are simply the beginnings of a new root or shoot from the potato. I would imagine that small potatoes are often just too immature to start growing roots or shoots.
Take a bag of potatos and allow them to set in the dark in a cubboard for a long time without eating them when they form many eyes, divide them leaving the eyes in tact and plant them in the ground, eye end pointed up!!! They will shoot out new potato plants. Make sure your eyes, (meaning the potatos eyes..) are pointed outward or up, preferably up! They will make cool plants and are good as we all know!