Objects, Materials, Exaggeration, and Perception

For a talk @ the ASU SciHub SciAPP Workshop on Science, the Arts & Possibilities in Perception.

It is tempting to think of perception as some form of physical measurement. Indeed, animals seem to act as if they are constantly using their sensory systems to quantify their world — Distances before jumping, colors before eating, trajectories for catching, and so forth. Similarly, as much as we fetishize the ‘brain as computer’ metaphor, it isn’t 100% clear that, beyond some extremely simple analogs, the brain does anything resembling digital computation. Does an animal’s perception and action depend on range finders, spectrophotometers, thermometers and the like for input? Do we compute with this input and use it to drive servo-like motor operations? If not, then what is a plausible alternative?

This talk will outline some of the ways in which the human visual system is relatively unconcerned with accurate or even plausible physical mensuration. Specific to this meeting’s aims — producers of visual media have been aware, at least tacitly, of this insensitivity since the earliest production of images. This rich (but sometimes ‘secret’) font of heuristic information can act as inspiration for understanding our perception of the visual world.

For example, painters know that a geometrically and photometrically correct projection of the world onto an image plane is mostly immaterial to our ability to understand an image. Animators know that exaggerating motion in just the right ways makes it look more realistic. Sculptors create striking diaphanous objects using dense and opaque materials. We will show examples and empirical investigation into this phenomenological psychophysical universe.