What is It?

Scientists and artists often ask one another this question about things in nature. They have different ways to organise and interpret what they find there. Scientists reveal facts and store them for further validation. Artists make one-off creations which you take or leave.

But such things are often not what they seem. Rather than see the world as it is, both scientists and artists use their eyes to search for patterns that they recognise from earlier experiences. And these visual records help know what will happen, for people remember behaviour as well as images. For example, look at the table illusion (the yellow lines are the same length and the blue lines are the same length):

http://www.lottolab.org/downloads/illusion/table.mov

Rather than seeing the world as it is, we have learnt to interpret the images we see. Illusions occur when the thing is different from that interpretation. The web-site http://www.lottolab.org has wonderful examples of art perceiving topical scientific issues. One is this illusion of two tables that have the same physical dimensions but shown in different colours: it seems that the perception of brightness depends on space and the neighbouring colours.

Another shows how complexity can emerge from “a developing artificial life system”

http://www.lottolab.org/downloads/artificial_life/evo_devo.mov

The creator of these images is the neurobiologist Beau Lotto who says in Nature 25th April 2013: “You have to be aware that you could possibly jeopardise your career [bridging art and science]. Many universities actively discourage . . collaborations.”

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