Unformatted text preview: them). Once we have achieved a clear understanding of
these connections, the insights they offer into the human
brain will have a profound impact not just on the sciences but
also on the humanities. Indeed, they may help us bridge the
huge gulf that separates C. P. Snow’s two cultures—science on
the one hand and arts, philosophy, and humanities on the
We could be at the dawning of a new age where specialization becomes old-fashioned and a twenty-first-century version
of the Renaissance man is born. acknowledgment
This chapter is excerpted from my book, A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness (New York: Pi Press, 2004). 188 the artful brain n otes
1. My book The Artful Brain is due to be published in 2005. Also
see the Web site of Bruce Gooch (University of Utah) on the laws of
2. Experiments dating back to Francis Galton show that averaging
several faces together often produces a face that is quite attractive.
Does this contradict my peak shift law? Not necessarily. Averaging
probably works by eliminating minor blemishes and distortions such
as warts, disproportionate face parts, asymmetries, etc., which makes
evolutionary sense. Yet the peak shift principle would predict that the
most attractive female face is not necessarily the “average” but usually one with the right kind of exaggeration. For example, if you subtract the average female face from the male and amplify the difference you would end up with an even more gorgeous face—a
“superfemale” with neotonous features (or a male stud-muffin with
exaggerated jawline and eyebrows).
3. Just for fun, let’s see how far we can take this argument. Cubism involves taking the usually invisible other side of an object or
face and moving it forward to the same plane as the side that is visible: two eyes and two ears visible on the profile view of a face, for example. This has the effect of liberating the observer from the tyranny
of a single viewpoint: you don’t have to walk around the object to see
its other side. Every art student knows this is the gist of Cubism, but
few have raised the question of why it is appealing. Is it just shock
value, or is there something else?
Let us consider the response of single neurons in the monkey
brain. In the fusiform gyrus, individual neurons often respond optimally to a particular face, e.g., one cell might respond to the monkey’s 189 the internet and the university
mother, one to the big alpha male, and one to a particular side-kick
monkey—a “Phanka waala cell,” you might say. Of course, the one
cell doesn’t “contain” all the properties of the face; it is part of a network that responds selectively to that face, but its activity is a reasonably good way of monitoring the activation of the network as a whole.
All this was shown by Charlie Gross, Ed Rolls, and Dave Perrett.
Interestingly, a given neuron (say an “alpha male face neuron”)
will respond only to one view of that particular fac...
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- Summer '09
- artful brain