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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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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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