i heart VT 2020!


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What a great job Kelin Kushin is doing in organizing the i heart VT 2020 conference!  If you haven’t registered for it yet, the $20 registration fee is the best bargain going.  Plus, all proceeds from the event will be donated to DirectRelief.org supporting international COVID-19 relief efforts, which Kelin has thoroughly vetted.

I just finished listening to the opening session which was at 10AM Eastern time, and it featured a masterful keynote address by the noted theorist, scientist, and author Mark Changizi.  Mark was a keynote speaker at ICBO 2018, and much of his talk today related to topics covered in his book, The Vision Revolution.  He has also recorded numerous informative YouTube moments worth checking out.

Moderating the Zoom event were Kelin, Brian Dornbos of VividVision, and John Stevenson of BABO.  Mark introduced his presentation by noting that his specialty is research on the structure and morphology of various human features and functions.

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He began with the thought-provoking question about why we have pruney fingers.  Time limited his ability to discuss this in detail, but if you want to get the full gripping story, you can learn more about it through his TED-Ed talk.

This was a nice segue into the topics that Mark covered this morning in the visual domain, which were as follows:

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Touching briefly upon color, Mark spent most of his time on visual illusions, binocular vision, orbital morphology.  His treatment of illusions was considerable, and in the interest of space and time, here is a nice background TED talk that he did on the subject.

Illusions don’t really signify that “our vision sucks”, one of the hypotheses that Mark entertained and thankfully rejected.  Rather, on a slightly more comforting level, we misperceive because of …

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By “slow brains” we mean that we don’t actually see things in real time.  We consciously register visual events about a tenth of a second after they actually occur.  So to perceive the present we must generate perception of the near future, and one of the mechanisms the brain uses to do this are visual illusions based on a prediction of what we anticipate seeing.

One of the features of visual illusions that Mark covered is a personal favorite of mine, the topic of optic flow.  He did this in the context of how radial lines flow by us as we’re moving forward in the real world.

What about the necessity of binocular vision?  Two eyes are strongly favored in nature as opposed to one.  Actual cyclopean beings are rare.  But is the second eye more than a spare tire and really – why are two eyes better than one?  Well … there is the obvious advantage of having a wider visual field with two forward facing eyes.  When you think about it, however, humans don’t have nearly as expansive a visual field compared to organisms that have lateralized eyes.  Ah, then — so perhaps stereopsis serves as the primary reason why we have two forward facing eyes?

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Wow!  Sounds metaphysically profound!  But exactly what does Changizi mean by the ability to “see through ourselves”?  This ties into both orbital morphology, or why our eyes are placed in the face the way they are, as well as to forward facing eyes.  This configuration enables us to begin to perceive ourselves the way others perceive us.  To enable us to be aware of our eyebrows, foreheads, cheeks, mouth, hands, and all those overt and covert parts of expression that convey emotion.

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In other words, the regions of the visual field have eyes, nose, eyebrows, cheeks, and mouth regions are in the right place to do this optimally through morphology.  They enable you to modulate your movements so that they look essentially the same way to you as they do to others.

Consider the analog in speech in terms of emotional overtones.  When I speak, I hear myself though auditory feedback providing overtones that are roughly the same way you hear me.  (Not exactly the same way, which is why we’re often surprised at the way we sound when first hearing audio playback of ourselves.)  But real time auditory feedback as I’m speaking to you allows me to fine tune and modulate my emotional signals.  And even though I can’t see my tongue when I’m speaking, it is housed in my mouth, which serves as a “sensory cave”, enabling us to proprioceptively “see” speech.

So, as Changizi emphasizes, visual-motor feedback is important in all of our behaviors, with expressive behavior no less important than more directly functional behavior – and is often exquisitely subtle.  We need to see in order to know that that we’re expressing our emotions in the way they’re intended, just as we need to hear our voices to modulate overtones when we speak.  And binocular vision provides an optimal feedback mechanism to these emotions,  just as binaurality does to speech.

This is where Changizi really blew me away.  I asked him (via chat) how we use visual feedback via orbital morphology to modulate our emotions in the absence of video.  He answered that our facial landmarks are all within our visual field, though at a subconscious level.  Wow …

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