Ramachandran_Artful_Brain

Ramachandran_Artful_Brain

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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.

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