This illustrated essay highlights some conceptual problems that arise when we consider the nature of visual perception and its relationship to art. Science proceeds on the assumption that natural phenomena operate rationally and can be explained rationally. Yet the study of art shows that many ordinary acts of perception, such as looking at a picture, can be paradoxical, logically contradictory and self-referential. I conclude that we must confront these problems if we are to reconcile the scientific approach to explaining visual perception with artistic and philosophical discoveries.
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Noelle R. B. Stiles, Armand R. Tanguay Jr. and Shinsuke Shimojo
In the original double flash illusion, a visual flash (e.g., a sharp-edged disk, or uniformly filled circle) presented with two short auditory tones (beeps) is often followed by an illusory flash. The illusory flash has been previously shown to be triggered by the second auditory beep. The current study extends the double flash illusion by showing that this paradigm can not only create the illusory repeat of an on-off flash, but also trigger an illusory expansion (and in some cases a subsequent contraction) that is induced by the flash of a circular brightness gradient (gradient disk) to replay as well. The perception of the dynamic double flash illusion further supports the interpretation of the illusory flash (in the double flash illusion) as similar in its spatial and temporal properties to the perception of the real visual flash, likely by replicating the neural processes underlying the illusory expansion of the real flash. We show further that if a gradient disk (generating an illusory expansion) and a sharp-edged disk are presented simultaneously side by side with two sequential beeps, often only one visual stimulus or the other will be perceived to double flash. This indicates selectivity in auditory–visual binding, suggesting the usefulness of this paradigm as a psychophysical tool for investigating crossmodal binding phenomena.
Galit Buchs, Benedetta Heimler and Amir Amedi
Visual-to-auditory Sensory Substitution Devices (SSDs) are a family of non-invasive devices for visual rehabilitation aiming at conveying whole-scene visual information through the intact auditory modality. Although proven effective in lab environments, the use of SSDs has yet to be systematically tested in real-life situations. To start filling this gap, in the present work we tested the ability of expert SSD users to filter out irrelevant background noise while focusing on the relevant audio information. Specifically, nine blind expert users of the EyeMusic visual-to-auditory SSD performed a series of identification tasks via SSDs (i.e., shape, color, and conjunction of the two features). Their performance was compared in two separate conditions: silent baseline, and with irrelevant background sounds from real-life situations, using the same stimuli in a pseudo-random balanced design. Although the participants described the background noise as disturbing, no significant performance differences emerged between the two conditions (i.e., noisy; silent) for any of the tasks. In the conjunction task (shape and color) we found a non-significant trend for a disturbing effect of the background noise on performance. These findings suggest that visual-to-auditory SSDs can indeed be successfully used in noisy environments and that users can still focus on relevant auditory information while inhibiting irrelevant sounds. Our findings take a step towards the actual use of SSDs in real-life situations while potentially impacting rehabilitation of sensory deprived individuals.
Mercedes B. Villalonga, Rachel F. Sussman and Robert Sekuler
Beats are among the basic units of perceptual experience. Produced by regular, intermittent stimulation, beats are most commonly associated with audition, but the experience of a beat can result from stimulation in other modalities as well. We studied the robustness of visual, vibrotactile, and bimodal signals as sources of beat perception. Subjects attempted to discriminate between pulse trains delivered at 3 Hz or at 6 Hz. To investigate signal robustness, we intentionally degraded signals on two-thirds of the trials using temporal-domain noise. On these trials, inter-pulse intervals (IPIs) were stochastic, perturbed independently from the nominal IPI by random samples from zero-mean Gaussian distributions with different variances. These perturbations produced directional changes in the IPIs, which either increased or decreased the likelihood of confusing the two pulse rates. In addition to affording an assay of signal robustness, this paradigm made it possible to gauge how subjects’ judgments were influenced by successive IPIs. Logistic regression revealed a strong primacy effect: subjects’ decisions were disproportionately influenced by a trial’s initial IPIs. Response times and parameter estimates from drift-diffusion modeling showed that information accumulates more rapidly with bimodal stimulation than with either unimodal stimulus alone. Analysis of error rates within each condition suggested consistently optimal decision making, even with increased IPI variability. Finally, beat information delivered by vibrotactile signals proved just as robust as information conveyed by visual signals, confirming vibrotactile stimulation’s potential as a communication channel.
Jeannette R. Mahoney and Michael Barnett-Cowan
Jianying Bai, Xin He, Yi Jiang, Tao Zhang and Min Bao
As a prominent illusion, the motion aftereffect (MAE) has traditionally been considered a visual phenomenon. Recent neuroimaging work has revealed increased activities in MT+ and decreased activities in vestibular regions during the MAE, supporting the notion of visual–vestibular interaction on the MAE. Since the head had to remain stationary in fMRI experiments, vestibular self-motion signals were absent in those studies. Accordingly, more direct evidence is still lacking in terms of whether and how vestibular signals modulate the MAE. By developing a virtual reality approach, the present study for the first time demonstrates that horizontal head rotation affects the perceived velocity of the MAE. We found that the MAE was predominantly perceived as moving faster when its direction was opposite to the direction of head rotation than when its direction was the same as head rotation. The magnitude of this effect was positively correlated with the velocity of head rotation. Similar result patterns were not observed for the real motion stimuli. Our findings support a ‘cross-modal bias’ hypothesis that after living in a multisensory environment long-term the brain develops a strong association between signals from the visual and vestibular pathways. Consequently, weak biasing visual signals in the associated direction can spontaneously emerge with the input of vestibular signals in the multisensory brain areas, substantially modulating the illusory visual motion represented in those areas as well. The hypothesis can also be used to explain other multisensory integration phenomena.
Anne Giersch and Jennifer T. Coull
Ronald P. Gruber, Ryan P. Smith and Richard A. Block
Flow and passage of time puzzles were analyzed by first clarifying their roles in the current multidisciplinary understanding of time in consciousness. All terms ( flow, passage, happening, becoming) are carefully defined. Flow and passage are defined differently, the former involving the psychological aspects of time and the latter involving the evolving universe and associated new cerebral events. The concept of the flow of time (FOT) is deconstructed into two levels: (a) a lower level ― a perceptual dynamic flux, or happening, or flow of events (not time); and (b) an upper level ― a cognitive view of past/present/future in which the observer seems to move from one to the other. With increasing evidence that all perception is a discrete continuity provided by illusory perceptual completion, the lower-level FOT is essentially the result of perceptual completion. The brain conflates the expression flow (passage, for some) of time with experiences of perceptual completion. However, this is an illusory percept. Converging evidence on the upper-level FOT reveals it as a false cognition that has the illusory percept of object persistence as its prerequisite. To research this argument, an experiment that temporarily removes the experience of the lower-level FOT might be conducted. The claustrum of the brain (arguably the center of consciousness) should be intermittently stimulated to create a scenario of discrete observations (involving all the senses) with long interstimulus intervals of non-consciousness and thereby no perceptual completion. Without perceptual completion, there should be no subjective experience of the lower-level FOT.
Time is a fundamental dimension of human perception, cognition and action, as the processing and cognition of temporal information is essential for everyday activities and survival. Innumerable studies have investigated the perception of time over the last 100 years, but the neural and computational bases for the processing of time remains unknown. Extant models of time perception are discussed before the proposition of a unified model of time perception that relates perceived event timing with perceived duration. The distinction between perceived event timing and perceived duration provides the current for navigating a river of contemporary approaches to time perception. Recent work has advocated a Bayesian approach to time perception. This framework has been applied to both duration and perceived timing, where prior expectations about when a stimulus might occur in the future (prior distribution) are combined with current sensory evidence (likelihood function) in order to generate the perception of temporal properties (posterior distribution). In general, these models predict that the brain uses temporal expectations to bias perception in a way that stimuli are ‘regularized’ i.e. stimuli look more like what has been seen before. As such, the synthesis of perceived timing and duration models is of theoretical importance for the field of timing and time perception.
Alix L. de Dieuleveult, Anne-Marie Brouwer, Petra C. Siemonsma, Jan B. F. van Erp and Eli Brenner
Older individuals seem to find it more difficult to ignore inaccurate sensory cues than younger individuals. We examined whether this could be quantified using an interception task. Twenty healthy young adults (age 18–34) and twenty-four healthy older adults (age 60–82) were asked to tap on discs that were moving downwards on a screen with their finger. Moving the background to the left made the discs appear to move more to the right. Moving the background to the right made them appear to move more to the left. The discs disappeared before the finger reached the screen, so participants had to anticipate how the target would continue to move. We examined how misjudging the disc’s motion when the background moves influenced tapping. Participants received veridical feedback about their performance, so their sensitivity to the illusory motion indicates to what extent they could ignore the task-irrelevant visual information. We expected older adults to be more sensitive to the illusion than younger adults. To investigate whether sensorimotor or cognitive load would increase this sensitivity, we also asked participants to do the task while standing on foam or counting tones. Background motion influenced older adults more than younger adults. The secondary tasks did not increase the background’s influence. Older adults might be more sensitive to the moving background because they find it more difficult to ignore irrelevant sensory information in general, but they may rely more on vision because they have less reliable proprioceptive and vestibular information.