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Unformatted text preview: e—e.g., its profile.
Another one nearby might respond to a semi-profile and a third one
to a full frontal of that face. Clearly, none of these neurons can by itself be signaling the concept “alpha male” because it can respond
only to one view of him. If the alpha male turns slightly, the neuron
will stop firing.
But at the next stage in the visual processing hierarchy you encounter a new class of neurons that I’ll call “master face cells” or “Picasso neurons.” A given neuron will respond only to a particular face,
e.g., “alpha male” or “mother,” but unlike the neurons in the
fusiform the neuron will fire in response to any view of that particular face (but not to any other face). And that, of course, is what you
need for signaling: “Hey—it’s the alpha male: watch out.”
How do you construct a master face cell? We don’t know, but one
possibility is to take the outgoing wires—axons—of all the “single
viewpoint” cells in the fusiform that correspond to a single master
face cell—in this case the alpha male cell. As a result of this pooling
of information you can present any view of the alpha male and it will
make at least one of the individual view cells in the fusiform fire, and
that signal will in turn activate the master cell. So the master cell
will respond to any view of that face.
But now what would happen if you were simultaneously to present two ordinary incompatible views of the face in a single part of the
190 the artful brain
visual field in a single plane? You would activate two individual face
cells in parallel in the fusiform, and hence the master cell downstream will get a double dose of activation. If the cell simply adds
these two inputs (at least until the cell’s response is saturated), the
master cell will generate a huge jolt, as if it were seeing a “super
face.” The net result is a heightened aesthetic appeal to a Cubist representation of a face—to a Picasso!
Now the advantage of this idea—however far-fetched—is that it
can be tested directly by recording from face cells at different stages
in the monkey brain and confronting them with Picasso-like faces. I
may be proved wrong, but that is its strength—it can at least be
proved wrong. As Darwin said, when you close one path to ignorance, you often simultaneously open a new one toward the truth.
This cannot be said for most philosophical theories of aesthetics.
4. If these arguments about “aesthetic universals” are correct,
then an obvious question arises: why doesn’t everyone like a Picasso?
The surprising answer to this question is that everyone does, but
most people are in denial about it. Learning to appreciate Picasso
may consist largely in overcoming denial! (Just as the Victorians initially denied the beauty of Chola bronzes until they overcame their
prudishness.) Now I know this sounds a bit frivolous, so let me explain. We have known for some time now that the mind isn’t one
“thing”—it involves the paral...
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This document was uploaded on 09/24/2013.
- Summer '09