Unformatted text preview: e of them will fire only to a particular view of a face, but
176 the artful brain higher up are found neurons each of which will respond to any
view (profile versus full frontal) of a given face. And I predict
that if you present a monkey with a Cubist portrait of a monkey’s face—two different views of a monkey’s face superimposed in the same location in the visual field—then that cell in
the monkey’s brain will be hyperactivated just as a long stick
with three red stripes hyperactivates the beak-detecting neurons in the chick’s brain. So what we have here is a neural explanation for Picasso—for Cubism.3
I’ve discussed one of my universal laws of art so far—peak
shift and the idea of ultra-normal stimuli—and have borrowed
insights from ethology, neurophysiology, and rat psychology to
account for why people like non-realistic art.4,5
The second law is more familiar. It’s called grouping.
Most of us are familiar with puzzle pictures, such as Richard
Gregory’s Dalmatian dog. At first sight you see nothing but a
bunch of splotches, but you can
sense your visual brain trying to
solve a perceptual problem, trying to make sense of this chaos.
And then after 30 or 40 seconds
suddenly everything clicks in
place and you group all the correct fragments together to see a
Dalmatian dog. (See Figure 2.)
You can almost sense your
brain groping for a solution to Figure 2. Gregory’s Dalmatian
the perceptual riddle. As soon
Dog (photo by Ron James).
177 the internet and the university as you successfully group the correct fragments together to see
the object, what I suggest is that a message is sent from the visual centers of the brain to the limbic-emotional centers of the
brain, giving it a jolt and saying, “A-ha, there is an object—a
dog,” or “A-ha, there is a face.”
The Dalmatian example is very important because it reminds us that vision is an extraordinarily complex and sophisticated process. Even looking at a simple scene involves a complex hierarchy, a stage-by-stage processing. At each stage in the
hierarchy of processing, when a partial solution is achieved—
when a part of the dog is identified—there is a reward signal
“a-ha,” a partial “a-ha,” and a small bias is sent back to earlier
stages to facilitate the further binding of the features of the
dog. And through such progressive bootstrapping the final dog
clicks in place to create the final big “A-HA!” Vision has much
more in common with problem solving—like a twentyquestions game—than we usually realize.
The grouping principle is widely used in both Indian and in
Western art—and even in fashion design. For example, you go
shopping and pick out a scarf with red splotches on it. Then
you look for a skirt which has also got some red splotches on it.
Why? Is it just hype, just marketing, or is it telling you something very deeply about how the brain is organized? I believe it
is telling you something very deep, something to do with the
way the brain e...
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- Summer '09
- artful brain