Title: The science of art and illusion


Prof.  Patrick Cavanagh

Department of Psychology, Glendon College

Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Dartmouth College

Time: 13:00-14:30, April 9, 2019

Location: Room 1113, Wang Kezhen Building, Peking University


A piece of art can trigger many emotions and impressions, many of them just as the artist intended. However, the same painting may also reveal, unintentionally, much about the workings of the brain: how the brain recovers the light and space and surfaces that we see. These are privileged insights not available from studying vision with natural scenes or photographs. These insights depend on undetected errors in representation. Painters often stray from photorealistic styles, taking liberties with the rules of physics to achieve a more effective painting. Critically, some of these transgressions of physics such as impossible shadows go unnoticed by viewers – these undetected errors are the ones that tell us which rules of physics actually count for visual perception. As artists find the rules they can break without penalty, they act as research neuroscientists and we have only to look at their paintings to uncover and appreciate their discoveries. We will use art and illusions in art to do “science by looking”, unlocking basic rules of visual cognition discovered by artists.

Host: Prof. Fang Fang