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June 8, 2011 / Dr. Toad

Eye Candy at the World Science Festival

Here is a 1.5 hour-long panel that is actually pretty fascinating (and I say it after watching it unlike the last time) — Eye Candy: Science, Sight, Art. A cognitive scientist, two neuroscientists who vehemently disagree with each other (as only becomes obvious in the last few minutes), a 3D filmmaker and a cartoonist talk about human vision and how visual art taps into it to “make us see what they have”.  Cave line drawings, caricatures and face recognition, 3D movies and their challenges, impressionism, movement, theories of 3D world reconstruction from two flat images in our brains.

It’s interesting too, how the panel moderator Lawrence Weschler ends on this very common point that a circle is fundamentally different from a million-sided polygon inscribed inside it, even if we can’t tell the difference anymore. Of course in the abstract and mathematical sense, it is. But I think he was making a point about human perception and insight, and there I think he’s wrong. All we have is the “million-sided” messy brain, and if it perceives a circle, or movement in a cartoon, or a recognized face, it’s not in any abstract way by some fiat, but from a multitude of very specific properties of the retinal images (and all of our higher-level understanding about the world). Which is exactly what the entire panel was kinda about. I guess the temptation to invoke some kind of divine intervention or inspiration is too great.

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