Pre-thinking:

Note that even if we sincerely believe that we are accurate in our perception of the world around us; we can be deceived! With the dot puzzle, stop the talk and really pay attention to the dots. If we somehow mis perceive the outside environment, what is a possible survival consequence? Are our senses “fragile”?

Why you should listen:

“Let there be perception,” was evolution’s proclamation, and so it was that all creatures, from honeybees to humans, came to see the world not as it is, but as was most useful. This uncomfortable place–where what an organism’s brain sees diverges from what is actually out there–is what Beau Lotto and his team at Lottolab are exploring through their dazzling art-sci experiments and public illusions. Their Bee Matrix installation, for example, places a live bee in a transparent enclosure where gallery goers may watch it seek nectar in a virtual meadow of luminous Plexiglas flowers. (Bees, Lotto will tell you, see colors much like we humans do.) The data captured isn’t just discarded, either: it’s put to good use in probing scientific papers, and sometimes in more exhibits.

At their home in London’s Science Museum, the lab holds “synesthetic workshops” where kids and adults make abstract paintings that computers interpret into music, and they host regular Lates–evenings of science, music and “mass experiments.” Lotto is passionate about involving people from all walks of life in research on perception–both as subjects and as fellow researchers. One such program, called “i,scientist,” in fact led to the publication of the first ever peer-reviewed scientific paper written by schoolchildren (“Blackawton Bees,” December 2010). It starts, “Once upon a time …”

These and Lotto’s other conjurings are slowly, charmingly bending the science of perception–and our perceptions of what science can be.

Who is he:

As a neuroscientist specializing in perception research, he has for years wowed the world of science with work that blurs the boundaries between neuro­science and the arts. Now, as well as bending the science of perception – and our perceptions of what science can be – he is trying to transform the way people think about themselves and also the world around them.

Questions:

  1. What is the one thing that Beau Lotto wants you to get out of his talk? Why does he think it is important?
  1. He says that perception is learned- what evidence does he present to support this?
  1. How does color affect our perception? Does (mis)perception have any survival value that you can explain?
  1. He says that we see by redefining normality, what does he mean by that statement?
  1. What does Lotto’s work say about the accuracy of eyewitness testimony?
  1. Do a “dot” experiment. Using the dot images, presented by Lotto earlier in the talk, vary the conditions (long time to examine, short time to examine, wide awake, sleepy, etc.) and record the accuracy of the perception. Write up your findings and share it with someone.

Optical illusions show how we see with Beau Lotto

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