The expression, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” has been used by many since it first appeared in print in the 19th century by writer Margaret Wolfe Hungerford. Cliché as it may sound, the idea behind this colloquialism—that perception is a subjective experience—is one that researchers are still working to unravel today. We’ve learned that aspects of perception (auditory, time, etc.) can be altered from depression, for example, and that there is a specific part of the brain dedicated solely to facial perception. Now, scientists are looking at differences in personality and how that affects the way a person visually examines a piece of artwork.
Remember “the dress” phenomenon? A viral sensation, people took to social media to passionately argue over whether a photographed dress was blue and black or gold and white. How can this be? We rely on our senses to help us navigate the world, but what if I told you our individual perceptions are not always what they seem?
Well, don’t take my word for it, that’s what I learned from NYU neuroscientist David Schneider at Tuesday night’s show, “Everything is Hallucinated.” Held at “intelligent nightlife” venue, Caveat, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Schneider was directed by theater director Sarah Hughes in a performance-meets-academia talk–with props and illusions. This is one of many events with a neuroscience slant planned this week at Caveat for Brain Awareness Week (March 12-18).
Master magician Prakash Puru took out a silver coin and held it with one hand. He snapped his fingers. In seconds the coin disappeared, only to reappear later by his elbow. Over and over again the coin vanished, much to the delight of a packed audience at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC.
Puru was invited to discuss the ways magicians manipulate perception to create illusions with neuroscientist Tony Ro. The Brainwave Series program, “Why Magicians are Master Manipulators,” focused on the neuroscience of perception and how its principles can be used to create magic.
How is it that we construct our reality? What is it we think we know, and what do we actually know? These are questions that led Columbia University neuroscientist Jacqueline Gottlieb to a career studying attention, decision-making, and curiosity. And at Saturday’s Brainwave event at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC, we learned how these questions were addressed by someone who lost his sight at age 25.
At “How to Perceive Without Sight,” Gottlieb spoke with entrepreneur Isaac Lidsky, who was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease of the retina, at age 12. Prior to losing his vision, he already had achieved status as a child actor, lawyer, Supreme Court clerk, and a successful business owner. But when he lost his sight in early adulthood, he had to overcome depression and learn to shift his attention to his remaining senses to navigate the world around him.
“It was an eye-opening process,” quipped Lidsky, who came to realize that his other senses provided him with “phenomenal” information. Rather than passively observing the world through sight as before, he now had to make a conscious effort to pay more attention to that other information.
“For a marinara like this, the San Marzano tomato, grown on the hills of the volcano above Naples, Vesuvius, is about the best.”
That was just part of the advice offered up by Lidia Bastianich, who was recently featured at the Rubin Museum during the museum’s Brainwave series. The Italian-born American chef and psychobiologist Gary Beauchamp, PhD, explored the link between the brain and cooking in “What’s the Secret to a Great Home-Made Sauce.”