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Neuroaesthetics: Sciences embraces art



Simon Norris presents on Neuroaesthetics: Science embraces art from UX Brighton 2013.

Simon Norris presents on Neuroaesthetics: Science embraces art from UX Brighton 2013.



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  • Hi! I’m Simon from Nomensa. <br /> The is my presentation Neuroaesthetics: science embraces art from UX Brighton 2013. <br /> I’ve added my notes to each of the slides. Any questions, please contact me @simon_norris. <br /> So, what is beauty? Why is beauty so important? How does it work? What can we learn from understanding beauty? More importantly by understanding it can we design better experiences? <br />
  • Jan Vermeer painting A girl with pearl earring c.1665 <br /> What does her look mean? <br />
  • Aphrodite of Milos or the Venus de Milo, is one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture and is currently on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris. <br /> We have been creating works of art for thousands of years. <br />
  • David is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture created between 1501 and 1504, by the Italian artist Michelangelo. <br />
  • Claude Monet’s Impression Sunrise c. 1872 <br /> The name of the picture contains the name of the art movement ‘impressionist’ in the title even though it was heavily criticised at the time. <br />
  • Impression Sunrise in black-and-white. <br /> Whilst the sun was the brightest object in the sky in the previous slide it is hardly distinguishable when the colour is removed. The sun should always be brighter than the sky if painting in a representational style. Obviously, Monet knew how to paint the sun so it would shimmer in the picture and therefore by breaking the purely representational style creates something totally new and different: the impressionist art movement. <br />
  • So, Neuroaesthetics: science embraces art <br /> 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! <br /> David Hume a British empiricist in the 18th century argued that beauty does not exist in things but the minds that contemplate them. Does the property for aesthetic preference exist in all human brains? <br /> 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. <br /> But firstly, a definition... <br />
  • Neuroaesthetics definition by Skov & Vartanian which focuses on art perception and experience. <br /> It raises an interesting question…… <br />
  • Does neuroaesthetics play a role in non-art objects? <br /> We don’t just respond to art but we also respond to non-art. Let’s look at a range of non-art objects that have aesthetic appeal. <br />
  • Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao designed by architect Frank Gehry and opened in 1997. <br /> The curves and unusual geometry make this building interesting and aesthetically appealing. <br />
  • Zaha Hadid designed the Innovation Tower for Hong Kong Polytechnic University which was completed 2013. <br /> Like the Guggenheim it is unusual and aesthetically interesting. <br />
  • From exteriors to the interiors of buildings. <br /> The Amagerbro Metro Station in Copenhagen is a beautiful image showing the fabulous lighting and geometry of the space. <br />
  • From the things we build to things built by nature. <br /> The image of Mount Fuji reflected in Lake Yamanaka is a great natural example of symmetry showing the snow capped mountain rising above the town. <br /> Human beings are sounded by many examples of symmetry within nature. Is it no wonder we have a strong preference for symmetrical objects? <br />
  • Tigers like many animals within the animal kingdom are considered beautiful. <br /> This image showing the tiger staring straight at us reveals its amazing eye colour and the pattern of its stripes. It’s an enigmatic image. <br /> For everyone who likes cats :) <br />
  • When we look out into the cosmos there are a great many objects of beauty. <br /> Our star the Sun may look a little scary here but it is still beautiful. <br />
  • Our own Mother Earth showing an image of our planet only observable twice a year, during an Equinox. <br />
  • To our own galaxy the Milky Way showing Orion Nebula and Orion’s belt <br /> The cosmos is beautiful. <br />
  • Even the things we make can be beautiful. <br /> Smeg’s retro-style refrigerators with their curves and simple design have aesthetic appeal. <br />
  • To a much smaller product are designed with aesthetic appeal. In fact, its beautiful design is considered one of its major features and has catapulted Apple’s iPhone (version 5) to one of the top profit generating company’s in the world. <br /> Aesthetics can make or break a product! <br />
  • Even websites can be considered aesthetic. The Nominet website is responsive and could be considered as an example of a website with aesthetic appeal. The responsive design approach could also be considered an aesthetic preference. In other words, we are developing preferences for websites that are responsive and the more aesthetically pleasing they are, as well as, responsive, the better the user experience. <br /> So, aesthetics can be commercially beneficial. <br />
  • We also like abstract patterns. We want to make sense of them. <br /> There are many things in our lives both natural and designed that have aesthetic appeal. <br />
  • What drives aesthetics? <br />
  • So, if beauty is not in the eye but in the brain. That brings us onto another important question. <br /> What is the function of the brain? <br />
  • I appreciate that there can be many different definitions for the brain and what it does. That said, I find the definition by Zeki to be particularity poignant. <br />
  • Simir Zeki is Professor of Neuroaesthetics at the University College of London and founded the Institute of Neuroaesthetics in 2001 at Berkeley, California. <br /> 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. <br /> 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 receptive fields. For example, he showed that a red-sensitive neuron would continue to respond to a red stimulus, even when it was illuminated mainly by green light. This was important because it was the first study relating colour perception to single cell physiology in the brain. <br /> 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! <br />
  • An MRI scanner. <br /> Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI), or magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) is a medical imaging technique used in radiology to visualise 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. <br />
  • The image shows the topography of the primary visual cortex and surrounding areas. <br /> This type of image is a typical output of the brain show in sagittal view (A and B) with a close-up on the visual areas (V1, V2, V3, VP, V3A and V4V) . <br /> It is important to note that there is no single area where all specialised visual circuitry connects and therefore no single neural centre exists and it is more likely to be a neural network. <br />
  • What is interesting about the brain and specifically the cortex is its 6 layer formation. <br /> The same anatomical structure can have profoundly different functions. It is very 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 obvious even by the untrained observer looking at the anatomical structures of the retina or the cochlea. <br /> The 6 layers are composed of two cell types. <br />
  • 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). <br /> The image shows a detailed view of Pyramidal or pyramid cells (a) and Stellate or star cells (b). <br /> Interestingly V1 in the Visual Cortex has no star cells! <br />
  • I mentioned earlier the term ‘brain concept’ but what are a brain concepts? <br />
  • Zeki describes “...two kinds [brain concepts], inherited and acquired. The two kinds are intimately linked and one could not exist without the other.” <br />
  • The inherited concepts organising the signals that come into the brain so as to instill meaning into them and thus make sense of them. <br /> 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. <br /> 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. <br /> We have cells in our Primary Visual Cortex that are orientation-selective e.g cells that only respond to straight lines. <br /> So horizontal orientation-selective cells will not respond to a vertical stimulus. <br /> Zeki’s consider this brain ability of cells to fire for specific stimuli to represent the neural building blocks of form perception. <br /> Zeki also considers it a form of micro-consciousness that operates below normal cognitive operation. <br />
  • Zeki outlines other important functions of the brain, namely, perceptual constancy and abstraction. <br /> 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’ e.g. a banana or a face will remain intact regardless of light, angle or distance. The brain is acting with efficiency and reducing the amount of information that needs to be remembered or recalled to recognise a face or a banana in changing conditions. <br /> It has been argued that art exposes this constancy because it allows us to capture the essence of an object. <br /> Constancy represents a primordial function of the visual brain. <br />
  • Abstraction <br /> Abstraction is different to constancy and requires hierarchical neural co-ordination. 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. <br />
  • The quote by Zeki indicates the limitations of our memories and how abstraction operates to allow the brain to behave efficiently within the need for storing and recalling every detail. <br /> Memory is reconstructed after all. <br />
  • Like abstraction and constancy, ambiguity can be considered a fundamental brain behaviour that can operate at different levels. <br /> Let’s look at a definition for ambiguity. <br />
  • ...a neurobiologically based definition of ambiguity is the opposite of the dictionary definition; it is not uncertainty, but certainty - the certainty of many, equally plausible interpretations, each one of which is sovereign when it occupies the conscious stage.” <br /> Essentially, the brain is very good at producing many different interpretations. <br />
  • A classic ambiguous object is the Necker cube. <br /> A visual illusion discovered in 1832 by the Swiss crystallographer L. A. Necker whilst observing crystal he noticed changes in the depth of the crystals, yet, the crystals were not changing. <br /> It presents an great example of a physically unvarying stimulus and how our brains produce 3 possibly interpretations which all are equally valid. <br />
  • The Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci c.1517 <br /> What does her smile mean? <br /> It could mean a great many things and has been described as enigmatic. <br /> It certainly will have more than one interpretation. <br />
  • So, what insights can we use from neuroaesthetics? <br /> Three areas to explore: <br /> - Patterns and pleasure; <br /> - Mental Models; <br /> - Cards. <br />
  • A great image from Iron Man 3 film showing Aldrich Killian showing his brain to Pepper Pots. <br />
  • We have long known about the role of the limbic system in the perception of pleasure. <br /> We could consider aesthetic perception as the processing of the visual centres in the brain such as V1 in the visual cortex <br /> We also know that the brain processes patterns in its continual quest for knowledge. <br /> 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. <br /> 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. <br /> Patterns include: <br /> - visual layouts, such as pages, and therefore a pages overall symmetry; <br /> - elements within visual layouts (recognition of detail e.g. a specific feature or function such as the carousel); <br /> - the flow or interaction between pages. <br /> 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. <br />
  • Maybe brain concepts are the building blocks of mental models? <br /> We could be synthesising both acquired and inherited brain concepts into mental models. Understanding the link could help us to design better systems, objects and experience because we can assure greater alignment of the design properties to reflect not just our mental models but how they are constructed by the brain. <br />
  • Another design pattern that is emerging in the digital world is the use of cards to present and control the flow of information. <br /> All the major digital players are adopting cards and I believe one of the benefits of using cards is that they embrace future-friendly thinking. We have mental models for using cards. This means cards can naturally support responsive design and the fashionable flat-design aesthetic. <br /> Cards are not new and have used to present information over along period of time e.g. Top Trumps. <br /> Let’s look at two twitter examples of cards. <br />
  • The iPhone and iPad version of twitter showing the discovery option. <br /> You can see how the information is compartmentalised and works very well on devices with smaller screens than desktop or laptop computers. <br />
  • I think designing using neuroaesthetics insights and understanding requires a much broader more holistic approach. It requires a polymorphous design-thinking attitude - no single perspective is right or wrong. <br />
  • The user interfaces in the recent Oblivion movie have lot’s of cards! <br /> Hollywood movie user interface designers obviously believe they are future. However, whilst the image is beautiful I think the idea of big physical screens may not represent the technology trajectory we are headed on. The user interface does not utilise many of our senses and it certainly does not combined them to augment how we use information. <br />
  • We need to adopt a micro-macro perspective. <br /> Neuroaesthetics is teaching us that everything is important and a micro-macro practice considers both the atomic elements of the design that can be reduced, as well as, the design from an holistic (ecological) perspective. <br /> Everything matters and therefore everything should be considered. <br />
  • So beauty, style, aesthetics - whatever we call it we know they are all very important. <br /> Yet beauty is much more than appearance. We aspire to beauty in all that surrounds us from architecture, to fashion, products...well everything we design. Beauty is meaning. We don&apos;t just see beauty, we feel it. <br />
  • We need to see the beauty in everything and heed the wisdom of Confucius. <br />
  • Thank You. <br />
  • A micro-macro practice - atomic (reductive) and holistic (ecological) - everything matters and therefore everything should be considered. <br />

Neuroaesthetics: Sciences embraces art Neuroaesthetics: Sciences embraces art Presentation Transcript

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  • ... a neurobiologically based definition of ambiguity is the opposite of the dictionary definition; it is not uncertainty, but certainty - the certainty of many, equally plausible interpretations, each one of which is sovereign when it occupies the conscious stage.” Zeki ood at is very g ions. rain erpretat ly, the b l rent int Essentia any diffe gm producin
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  • beauty/style/aesthetic atever ics - wh esthet ll very , style, a beauty ey ar e a So know th all it we we c t. importan than ch more ty in all mu eauty is e aspire to beau , to Yet b W ture architec arance. appe we s from rounds u .well everything 't just sur that cts.. W e don n, produ hio eaning. fas ty is m n. Beau eel it. desig we f beauty, see the likely thing is l some beautifu re The mo re it! e to sha we ar
  • Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. thing in every eauty ius. ee the b eed to s f Confuc We n dom o d the wis and hee Confucius
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