Illusions: A Royal Path to Brain Research

Thomas Papathomas (Biomedical Engineering; Laboratory for Vision Research; Campus Dean, Busch)

In the famous “figure-ground” drawing, a black-and-white image appears to be a vase or two profiles facing each other. Which is it? The answer depends on factors we will study in this course. This seminar presents an interdisciplinary approach to brain research using visual and auditory illusions. First, we will examine how the brain organizes information that it gathers through sight and sound by using psychophysical methods and brain imaging. Next, we will use illusions in vision and audition to test the hypothesis that perception is not only an automatic, data-driven (“bottomup”) process, but it is also subject to cognitive, schema-driven (“topdown”) influences. Examples will include an “ever-ascending pitch illusion,” the “hollow mask illusion,” striking 3D art pieces (“reverspectives”) that appear to move as one moves in front of them, as well as some of the instructor’s own illusions. One of the classes will be a guided tour of the Zimmerli Museum.