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March 15, 2007

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The Artist's Eye


From Cognitive Daily:

These two pictures represent the eye motions of two viewers as they scan a work of art with the goal of remembering it later. One of them is a trained artist, and the other is a trained psychologist. Can you tell which is which?


Posted March 15, 2007 at 10:57 | Comments (12) | Permasnark
File under: Braiiins, Briefly Noted


The psychologist is the one who's attention focused on the iange of the person (the leftmost image), and the artist was the one whose attention ranged more evenly over the entire paiting (the rightmost image.)



I would love to see a study like this but for musicians and non-musicians... and except for an image, it's a piece of music. Too bad there isn't an ear tracking program... or is there????

Posted by: Aaron M on March 16, 2007 at 01:17 PM

Too bad there isn't an ear tracking program... or is there????

Aaron has just broken my brain. Time to go home.

I love seeing user studies like this at work. Like, "how many completely wack-ass places did the user look in order to figure out where s/he had to click?"

I love seeing user studies like this at work. Like, "how many completely wack-ass places did the user look in order to figure out where s/he had to click?"

Interesting in the context of just having read Temple Grandin's Animals in Translation, in which she argues that autistic people (and animals) see the world more as it really is, whereas average people see only their schema of the world populated by schemas of its objects. She mentions, for example anecdotally, that some artistic savants draw in perfect perspective without any training, something most people struggle with when learning to draw. It's all part of a more general tendency for normal people to phase out most information, be it visual, auditory, memory, etc. and deal with the world as a pseudo-Platonic artificial construct instead of as it really is. And there's definitely some role of genetics in how much you tend to do this.

Could you do a study on musicians? Well, the sensory transduction for auditory system doesn't really allow you to be as selective as vision in what you take in. But perhaps if you looked at temporal lobe fMRI you could see top-down attentional modulation of processing for certain frequencies that might differ in proportion to musical training. If not that low-level, then you could at least observe differences in higher processing I'm quite confident. But many of those higher processing differences in fMRI would probably show up more simply in behavioral assessment like just asking "did you notice when the second theme started?".

Finally, the Exploratorium here in SF had an eye tracking thing like this where it would record your trace and then display it there until the next person tried it. I and the other middle school boys enjoyed making a point of staring at the picture's groinal area for the entire test interval.

Would love to see something like this done for a night sky photo with laymen vs. astronomer subjects. Or a natural landscape photo with laymen vs. botanist subjects.

Re: music and the discarding of information... I've read before that one of the reasons why most people don't have perfect pitch is because we learn to discard changes in pitch/frequency as linguistically meaningless. If a word meant something different if it were sung as a G instead of a C, we'd be much better at recognizing tones by ear.

Cf. also Nietzsche's "On Truth And Lie In An Extramoral Sense":

Only through forgetfulness can man ever achieve the illusion of possessing a "truth" in the sense just designated. If he does not wish to be satisfied with truth in the form of a tautology—that is, with empty shells—then he will forever buy illusions for truths. What is a word? The image of a nerve stimulus in sounds. But to infer from the nerve stimulus, a cause outside us, that is already the result of a false and unjustified application of the principle of reason. If truth alone had been the deciding factor in the genesis [Genesis] of language, and if the standpoint of certainty had been decisive for designations, then how could we still dare to say "the stone is hard," as if "hard" were something otherwise familiar to us, and not merely a totally subjective stimulation! We separate things according to gender, designating the tree as masculine and the plant as feminine. What arbitrary assignments! How far this oversteps the canons of certainty! We speak of a "snake": this designation touches only upon its ability to twist itself and could therefore also fit a worm. What arbitrary differentiations! What one-sided preferences, first for this, then for that property of a thing! The different languages, set side by side, show that what matters with words is never the truth, never an adequate expression; else there would not be so many languages. The "thing in itself" (for that is what pure truth, without consequences, would be) is quite incomprehensible to the creators of language and not at all worth aiming for. One designates only the relations of things to man, and to express them one calls on the boldest metaphors. A nerve stimulus, first transposed into an image—first metaphor. The image, in turn, imitated by a sound—second metaphor. And each time there is a complete overleaping of one sphere, right into the middle of an entirely new and different one. One can imagine a man who is totally deaf and has never had a sensation of sound and music. Perhaps such a person will gaze with astonishment at Chladni's sound figures; perhaps he will discover their causes in the vibrations of the string and will now swear that he must know what men mean by "sound." It is this way with all of us concerning language; we believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things—metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities. In the same way that the sound appears as a sand figure, so the mysterious X of the thing in itself first appears as a nerve stimulus, then as an image, and finally as a sound. Thus the genesis [Entstehung] of language does not proceed logically in any case, and all the material within and with which the man of truth, the scientist, and the philosopher later work and build, if not derived from never-never land, is a least not derived from the essence of things.

Perfect pitch: the linguistic theory is enticing. There are other forms of animal communication where pitch is more important. I wonder what kind of pitch experiments have been done with recent human ancestors. I also know there is some research (out of our very own UCSF) indicating that there is a strong heritable component to human perfect pitch.

Man, Nietzsche was really smart. He was the one high point in my otherwise terrible undergrad philosophy class. Another anecdote in Temple Grandin's book (she loves those anecdotes, although where relevant science exists she also cites it) is that when she was a kid and met a chihuahua she had a lot of trouble understanding why this was a "dog" and not a "cat". The categories didn't really make sense to her and she thought they were based on size or something.

I think what Nietzsche is hitting on is true about the general state of human consciousness; very out of touch with immediate reality, largely thanks to the abstractness of language and learning to think about the world in language instead of "thinking in pictures" as Grandin says autistic people are more prone to do. But, I also think there's a lot of evidence that through professional training or altered states (pharmacological, meditative, etc.) we can learn to be more in touch on a selective basis. But then, all that abstractness must be good for something, so maybe you don't want to get too in touch with your animal self.

Another interesting corollary is the whole reason/emotion issue as popularized largely by Tony Damasio. In short, we (many of us, especially the men) think of ourselves as rational, but in fact our decisions primarily come out of our subconscious emotional brain and the rational brain really just invents the rationale to make sense of the decision consciously. Again, this seems to me like a veil we put over the world, in this case our internal world. And again, I think this is standard operating but there are ways to get more in touch with it, override it, etc. With training.

This is seriously one of the most interesting things in the entire universe.

I read about an experiment involving people whose brains had been split in the center (to help with schizophrenia or something like that) -- no communication between the lobes. This means they could selectively show images to just one lobe or the other.

When you do this splitting, 'consciousness' sort of takes up residence in one lobe. They'd specifically show a message -- something like 'LEAVE THE ROOM' -- to the unconscious lobe.

The subject would stand up and leave the room.

When they asked her why, she'd say: "Oh, I have to go to the bathroom" or "I need a drink of water." That is: The conscious brain would immediately play spin-doctor and post-rationalize the unconsciously-driven action.

What is wild is that THIS IS HAPPENING ALL THE TIME IN ALL OF US. It's not a function of these split brains; it's just that the split brains help us see the behavior.


P.S. Agreed, that Nietzsche passage is rad.

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