Vision is in the Brain of the Beholder


The Austrian-American neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel was a recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine who shows no signs of slowing down even though he is closing in on his 87th birthday.  Aside from his Nobel Prize fame, Dr. Kandel has single-handedly kept the bow tie alive in style.  Now that you’ve seen his picture, how is Dr. Kandel visually represented in your brain?

In his fascinating new book, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, Kandel refers to The Beholder’s Share as playing an intimate role in portraiture, including the modulatory role of the dopaminergic system that helps explain why an individual falls in love with the look of a particular painting.  But it is the visual system in particular, as Kandel notes on page 26, that is central to the beholder’s share.

Kandel Book Cover

I enjoyed Dr. Kandel’s description of vision (p.26): “Vision is the process of discovering from images what is present in the visual world and where it is.”  The italics are his, and concisely describe the what and where parallel pathways for vision but equally important, the how and why of vision that is rooted in discovery.  There is an abundance of perceptive and insightful information in this book, of which you can get a flavor through this TEDx video presentation.

I’ve commented on Kandel’s work previously on this blog, and in doing so cited his referencing of Thomas Albright’s approach to vision, which he does again in this book.  Albright’s views provide a bridge to visual learning, and if his name seems familiar, stay tuned for Part Two …

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