Neuroaesthetics: science embraces art (UX Bristol)

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Nomensa CEO Simon Norris' presentation from UX Bristol; Neuroaesthetics: science embraces art.

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  • Nomensa logo. What do we process colour before we process motion?
  • Jan Vermeer painting A girl with pearl earring c.1665 What does her look mean?
  • Paul Cezanne’s Ile De France Landscape c. 1880 Such an incredibly detailed scene using coarse brush strokes and shapes.
  • Claude Monet Impression Sunrise c. 1872 The name of the picture has the name of the art movement ‘impressionist’ in the title even though it was heavily criticised at the time.
  • Impression Sunrise in black-and-white. Whilst the sun was the brightest object in the sky in the previous picture it is hardly distinguishable when the colour is removed. The sun should always be brighter than the sun if painting in a representational style. Obviously, Monet knew how to paint the sun and the sky so it would shimmer and therefore by breaking the purely representational style creates something totally new and different: the impressionist art movement.
  • So, Neuroaesthetics: science embraces art. Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy concerned with art, beauty and taste has been discussed for thousands of years since the time of Plato. It is obviously pretty important! This presentation will provide a quick tour of the domain of neuroaesthetics and therefore start by looking at the brain, its function and how insights from this domain can be applied to design. But firstly, a definition...
  • “ The field of neuroaesthetics, viewed broadly, is the application of neuroscience to problems in the psychology of art and aesthetics.” It raises an interesting question...
  • Aesthetics can be considered a fundamental part of our lives. Our need to define what is beautiful or not! It covers all of our senses not just vision. Is beauty a characteristic of an object as Plato believed? Or is beauty a characteristic of the perceiver as Kant outlined in his ‘Critique of Esthetic Judgement’? I tend to agree with Kant, the aesthetic we perceive is in our brains. Zeki refers to these perceptions of the brain as ‘Brain Concepts’ explaining that they exist in art and love. I believe just as with art we can extend this idea of brain concept to design. Therefore, discovering the general rules of aesthetics can equally be applied to design. Therefore beautiful design like a beautiful work of art exists in on our brains as an individual and unique brain concept.
  • So it brings us onto another important question. What is the function of the brain?
  • I appreciate that there can be many different definitions of the brain yet the one by Zeki is particularity poignant... “ the acquisition of knowledge in which the brain is ceaselessly engaged .”
  • Simir Zeki is Professor of Neuroaesthetics at the University College of London and founded the Institute of Neuroaesthetics in 2001 at Berkeley, California. Zeki is known among other things for the discovery of the many visual areas of the brain and their functional specialisation for different visual attributes such as colour, motion and form. For example discovering neurones in a part of the monkey visual system that would respond only when a particular colour, rather than a particular wavelength, was in their recept ive fields. For example, he showed that a red-sensitive neurone wou ld continue to respon d to a red stimulus, even when it was illuminated mainly by green light. This was important becau se it was t he first study relating colour perception to single cell physiology in the brain. This is really interesting and maybe even a little controversial because it challenges the orthodox view that processing sites in the visual brain are separate from perceptual sites but in fact, that processing sites can also be perceptual sites. An idea Zeki calls Micro-consciousness!
  • An MRI scanner Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI), or magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) is a medical imaging technique used in radiology to visualize internal structures of the body in detail. MRI makes use of the property of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to image nuclei of atoms inside the body. MRI can create more detailed images of the human body than are possible with X-rays.
  • Image showing activation in the Primary Visual Cortex V1 It is important to note that there is no single area where all specialized visual circuitry connect and therefore no single neural center exists and it is more likely to me a neural network
  • The architecture of the cerebral cortex is composed of a few cellular types, namely Pyramidal or pyramid cells (a) and Stellate or star cells (b). The cortex has 6 layers typically with layers 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 being pyramid cells and layer 4 being star cells. What is really interesting is the same anatomical structure can have such profoundly different functions. It would be hard to tell by anatomical analysis the difference between the areas for touch, smell or hearing. Compare this to other areas of the body where the differences can be vary obvious even by the untrained observer looking at the retina or the cochlea.
  • Detailed view of Pyramidal or pyramid cells (a) and Stellate or star cells (b). Interestingly V1 in the Visual Cortex has no star cells!
  • I mentioned earlier a term ‘brain concept’ but what are a brain concepts?
  • Zeki describes “...two kinds [brain concepts], inherited and acquired. The two kinds are intimately linked and one could not exist without the other.”
  • The inherited concepts organising the signals that come into the brain so as to instil meaning into them and thus make sense of them. The acquired concepts are generated throughout life by the brain, and make it significantly independent of the continual change in the information reaching the brain; they make it easier for us to perceive and recognise and thus obtain knowledge of things and situations. A good example of an inherited brain concept is the perception or seeing of colour. A person with a normal brain cannot control or ignore the colour the see. We have cells in our Primary Visual Cortex that are orientation-selective e.g cells that only respond to straight lines. So horizontal orientation-selective cells will not respond to a vertical stimulus. Zeki’s consider this brain ability of cells to fire for specific stimuli to represent the neural building blocks of form perception. Zeki also considers it a form of micro-consciousness that operates below normal cognitive operation.
  • Zeki outlines other important functions of the brain; perceptual constancy and abstraction. Perceptual Constancy allows us to maintain visual stimuli when variables such as distance, viewing angle and illumination change. In other words the brain maintains an object’s ‘constancy’ (example of a banana or a face). It has been argued that art exposes this constancy because it allows us to capture the essence of an object. However, abstraction is different and requires hierarchical neural coordination. Therefore, general representation can be applied to many particulars. So in the case of art it externalises the functions of abstraction in the brain. However, the actual processes involved with abstraction are currently unknown to cognitive neurobiology. Visual brain - Constancy: “ seek knowledge of the constant and essential properties of objects and surfaces, when the information reaching it changes from moment to moment.” Represents a primordial function of the visual brain.
  • Abstraction: “ the particular is subordinated to the general, so what is represented is applicable to many particulars.” Memory limitations therefore abstraction allows the brain to behave efficiently within the need for storing and recalling every detail. Memory is reconstructed after all.
  • Like abstraction and constancy, ambiguity can be considered a fundamental brain behaviour that can operate at different levels. Essentially, the brain is very good at producing many different interpretations.
  • The Necker cube. A Visual Illusion discovered in 1832 by the Swiss chrystallographer L. A. Necker. It presents an example of a physically unvarying stimulus and how our brains produce 3 possibly interpretations which all are equally valid.
  • Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci c.1517 What does her smile mean? It could mean a great many things and has been described as enigmatic. It certainly will have more than one interpretation.
  • What insights can we use from neuroaesthetics? Just as we have mental models for everything. We also have inherited and acquired brain concepts. Maybe inherited and acquired concepts are the neurological foundation on which mental models are generated? The perspective originated by Kant that the aesthetic of an object resides in the mind rather than the object is getting increasing support from neuroscience.
  • We have known about the role of the limbic system in the perception of pleasure. We could consider aesthetic perception as the processing of the visual centres in the brain such as V1 in the visual cortex We also know that the brain processes patterns in its continual quest for knowledge. We also know that the more quickly and more accurately we can represent a pattern the more enjoyable it is, e.g. we recognise the face of a mother, father or child more quickly. Patterns that are ambiguous will increase the number of interpretations we generate. The more interpretations the more information we need to process as well as the potential uncertainty we feel. Patterns include: - visual layouts, such as pages, and therefore a pages overall symmetry; - elements within visual layouts (recognition of detail e.g. a specific feature or function such as the carousel); - the flow or interaction between pages. All these elements have an aesthetic that needs to be considered when designing them. The aesthetic is not just the colour or arrangement, and it is also more than the total combined elements. Aesthetics have a Gestalt-like effect. Final thought: we have become increasingly aware of the importance of psychology in the design of digital systems and interaction. We need to understand the underlying neurology and brain behaviours and the relationship it has with psychology. I believe as designers we can prosper significantly from enriching our understanding of design by learning more about neuroaesthetics.
  • Neuroaesthetics: science embraces art (UX Bristol)

    1. 1. Hi! I’m Simon from Nomensa. This is my presentation Neuroaesthetics: science embraces art from UX Bristol 2013. I’ve added my notes to each of the slides. Any questions, please contact me on simon@nomensa.com!
    2. 2. 22 Jan Vermeer painting A girl with pearl earring c.1665 What does her look mean?
    3. 3. 33 Paul Cezanne’s Ile De France Landscape c. 1880 Such an incredibly detailed scene using coarse brush strokes and shapes.
    4. 4. 44 Claude Monet Impression Sunrise c. 1872 The name of the picture has the name of the art movement ‘impressionist’ in the title even though it was heavily criticised at the time.
    5. 5. 5 Impression Sunrise in black-and-white. Whilst the sun was the brightest object in thesky in the previous picture it is hardlydistinguishable when the colour is removed.The sun should always be brighter than thesun if painting in a representational style.Obviously, Monet knew how to paint the sunand the sky so it would shimmer and thereforeby breaking the purely representational stylecreates something totally new and different:the impressionist art movement.
    6. 6. Neuroaesthetics: science embraces art So, Neuroaesthetics: science embraces art. Aesthetics is a branch of philosophyconcerned with art, beauty and taste has beendiscussed for thousands of years since thetime of Plato. It is obviously pretty important! This presentation will provide a quick tour ofthe domain of neuroaesthetics and thereforestart by looking at the brain, its function andhow insights from this domain can be appliedto design. But firstly, a definition...
    7. 7. “The field of neuroaesthetics, viewed broadly, is the application of neuroscience to problems in the psychology of art and aesthetics.” Skov & Vartanian It raises an interesting question...
    8. 8. Why are some things beautiful? Aesthetics can be considered afundamental part of our lives. Ourneed to define what is beautiful or not!It covers all of our senses not justvision. Is beauty a characteristic of an objectas Plato believed? Or is beauty acharacteristic of the perceiver as Kantoutlined in his ‘Critique of EstheticJudgement’? I tend to agree withKant, the aesthetic we perceive is inour brains. Zeki refers to these perceptions of thebrain as ‘Brain Concepts’ explainingthat they exist in art and love. Ibelieve just as with art we can extendthis idea of brain concept to design.Therefore, discovering the generalrules of aesthetics can equally beapplied to design. Therefore beautiful design like abeautiful work of art exists in on ourbrains as an individual and uniquebrain concept.
    9. 9. What is the function of the brain? So it brings us onto another important question. What is the function of the brain?
    10. 10. “the acquisition of knowledge...” Zeki I appreciate that there can be many different definitions of the brain yet the one by Zeki is particularity poignant... “the acquisition of knowledge in which the brain is ceaselessly engaged.”
    11. 11. Simir Zeki is Professor of Neuroaesthetics at the UniversityCollege of London and founded theInstitute of Neuroaesthetics in 2001 atBerkeley, California. Zeki is known among other things forthe discovery of the many visual areasof the brain and their functionalspecialisation for different visualattributes such as colour, motion andform. For example discovering neurones ina part of the monkey visual systemthat would respond only when aparticular colour, rather than aparticular wavelength, was in theirreceptive fields. For example, heshowed that a red-sensitive neuronewould continue to respond to a redstimulus, even when it was illuminatedmainly by green light. This wasimportant because it was the firststudy relating colour perception tosingle cell physiology in the brain. This is really interesting and maybeeven a little controversial because itchallenges the orthodox view thatprocessing sites in the visual brain areseparate from perceptual sites but infact, that processing sites can also beperceptual sites. An idea Zeki callsMicro-consciousness!
    12. 12. An MRI scanner Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI),nuclear magnetic resonanceimaging (NMRI), or magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) is amedical imaging technique used inradiology to visualize internalstructures of the body in detail. MRImakes use of the property ofnuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)to image nuclei of atoms inside thebody. MRI can create more detailedimages of the human body than arepossible with X-rays.
    13. 13. Image showing activation in thePrimary Visual Cortex V1 It is important to note that there isno single area where all specializedvisual circuitry connect and therefore no single neural centerexists and it is more likely to me aneural network.
    14. 14. The architecture of the cerebral cortex is composed of a few cellular types, namely Pyramidal or pyramid cells (a) and Stellate or star cells (b). The cortex has 6 layers typically with layers 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 being pyramid cells and layer 4 being star cells. What is really interesting is the same anatomical structure can have such profoundly different functions. It would be hard to tell by anatomical analysis the difference between the areas for touch, smell or hearing. Compare this to other areas of the body where the differences can be vary obvious even by the untrained observer looking at the retina or the cochlea.
    15. 15. 15 The architecture of the cerebral cortex is composed of a few cellular types, namely Pyramidal or pyramid cells (a) and Stellate or star cells (b). The cortex has 6 layers typically with layers 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 being pyramid cells and layer 4 being star cells. What is really interesting is the same anatomical structure can have such profoundly different functions. It would be hard to tell by anatomical analysis the difference between the areas for touch, smell or hearing. Compare this to other areas of the body where the differences can be vary obvious even by the untrained observer looking at the retina or the cochlea.
    16. 16. brain concepts? I mentioned earlier a term ‘brain concept’ but what are a brain concepts?
    17. 17. ...there are two kinds [brain concepts], inherited and acquired. The two kinds are intimately linked and one could not exist without the other.” Zeki
    18. 18. inherited or acquired The inherited concepts organising thesignals that come into the brain so as toinstill meaning into them and thus makesense of them. The acquired concepts are generatedthroughout life by the brain, and make itsignificantly independent of thecontinual change in the informationreaching the brain; they make it easierfor us to perceive and recognise andthus obtain knowledge of things andsituations. A good example of an inherited brainconcept is the perception or seeing ofcolour. A person with a normal braincannot control or ignore the colour thesee. We have cells in our Primary VisualCortex that are orientation-selective e.g.cells that only respond to straight lines. So horizontal orientation-selective cellswill not respond to a vertical stimulus. Zeki’s consider this brain ability of cellsto fire for specific stimuli to represent theneural building blocks of form perception. Zeki also considers it a form of micro-consciousness that operates belownormal cognitive operation.
    19. 19. constancy Zeki outlines other important functionsof the brain; perceptual constancy andabstraction. Perceptual Constancy allows us tomaintain visual stimuli when variablessuch as distance, viewing angle andillumination change. In other words thebrain maintains an object’s ‘constancy’(example of a banana or a face). It has been argued that art exposes thisconstancy because it allows us tocapture the essence of an object. However, abstraction is different andrequires hierarchical neural coordination. Therefore, generalrepresentation can be applied to manyparticulars. So in the case of art itexternalises the functions of abstractionin the brain. However, the actualprocesses involved with abstraction arecurrently unknown to cognitiveneurobiology. Visual brain - Constancy: “seek knowledge of the constant andessential properties of objects andsurfaces, when the information reachingit changes from moment to moment.” Represents a primordial function of thevisual brain.
    20. 20. abstraction Abstraction: “the particular is subordinated to thegeneral, so what is represented isapplicable to many particulars.” Memory limitations therefore abstractionallows the brain to behave efficientlywithin the need for storing and recallingevery detail. Memory is reconstructed after all.
    21. 21. ambiguity Like abstraction and constancy,ambiguity can be considered afundamental brain behaviour that canoperate at different levels. Essentially, the brain is very good atproducing many different interpretations.
    22. 22. The Necker cube. A Visual Illusion discovered in 1832 by the Swiss chrystallographer L. A. Necker. It presents an example of a physically unvarying stimulus and how our brains produce 3 possibly interpretations which all are equally valid.
    23. 23. 2323 Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci c.1517 What does her smile mean? It could mean a great many things and has been described as enigmatic. It certainly will have more than one interpretation.
    24. 24. How can we use insights from neuroaesthetics in design? What insights can we use from neuroaesthetics? Just as we have mental models for everything. We also have inherited and acquired brain concepts. Maybe inherited and acquired concepts are the neurological foundation on which mental models are generated? The perspective originated by Kant that the aesthetic of an object resides in the mind rather than the object is getting increasing support from neuroscience.
    25. 25. Pleasure and Patterns We have known about the role of the limbicsystem in the perception of pleasure. We could consider aesthetic perception as theprocessing of the visual centres in the brainsuch as V1 in the visual cortex. We also know that the brain processespatterns in its continual quest for knowledge. We also know that the more quickly and moreaccurately we can represent a pattern themore enjoyable it is, e.g. we recognise theface of a mother, father or child more quickly. Patterns that are ambiguous will increase thenumber of interpretations we generate. Themore interpretations the more information weneed to process as well as the potentialuncertainty we feel. Patterns include: - visual layouts, such as pages, and thereforea pages overall symmetry; - elements within visual layouts (recognition ofdetail e.g. a specific feature or function suchas the carousel); -the flow or interaction between pages. All these elements have an aesthetic thatneeds to be considered when designing them.The aesthetic is not just the colour orarrangement, and it is also more than the totalcombined elements. Aesthetics have aGestalt-like effect.
    26. 26. Thank you for you attention :-) Final thought: we have become increasingly aware of the importance of psychology in the design of digital systems and interaction. We need to understand the underlying neurology and brain behaviours and the relationship it has with psychology. I believe as designers we can prosper significantly from enriching our understanding of design by learning more about neuroaesthetics.

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