Brain Pickings

Vision Revolution: Why We See The Way We Do

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Why do we see the way we do? Since the dawn of humanity’s fascination with the brain, scientists have tried to answer this question. But, as it turns out, much of what they thought to be true was wrong. In The Vision Revolution: How the Latest Research Overturns Everything We Thought We Knew About Human Vision, neuroscientist Mark Changizi — whose work has graced the pages of merchants of culture like TIME, Newsweek, New Scientist and The New York Times — offers groundbreaking insights into the science of how and why we see as we do through thoughtfully curated highlights from breakthrough research, complete with illuminating illustrations and diagrams that visualize his conclusions.

To understand how culture interacts with vision, one must understand not just the eye’s design, but the actual mechanisms we have evolved, for culture can tap into both the designed responses of our brains and the unintended responses.” ~ Mark Changizi

Changizi focuses on four fundamental “why” questions — why do we see in color, why do our eyes face forward, why do we see illusions, and why does reading come so naturally to us — the answers to which will surprise you.

For instance, scientists used to believe that color vision evolved to help our ancestors spot ripe fruit. It turns out, however, that it actually evolved to give us greater insight into the mental, emotional and physical states of other people: People who can see color changes in skin have a competitive edge over those who can’t because they can detect the reddening of rashes and know when others are blushing with embarrassment or purple-faced with exertion. (It’s unsurprising, then, that primates who have color vision are the ones who have no fur or hair on their faces and other instrumental body parts.) Even more interestingly, Changizi reveals that the cones in our eyes are exquisitely designed to see these skin color changes.

Perhaps most fascinatingly, Changizi illuminates the neuropsychology of illusions, which are the result of our brains’ evolutionary need to micro-predict the motion of objects. (You know a baseball is about to hit you in the face before it does, because you can project its trajectory, which allows you to react accordingly.) Simply put, illusions happen when the brain is tricked into believing a static two-dimensional picture has a moving element, projecting that element into the future and seeing not what is actually on the page but what our brain thinks will be there a fraction of a second later.

If our brains simply created a perception of the way the world was at the time light hit the eye, then by the time that perception was elicited — which takes about a tenth of a second for the brain to do — time would have marched on, and the perception would be of the recent past.” ~ Mark Changizi

Deeply fascinating yet absorbingly readable, The Vision Revolution comes as a necessary foundation for better understanding one of our most fundamental tools for navigating the world and, in the process, better understanding ourselves.

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