Sidenote #2: Visual Cognition Gone Wrong


Numbers show facts in a very restricted way, limiting their interpretation somewhat. Still, when venturing into the realms of visualization, even number-guided visual artifacts artifacts can become ambiguous. Circumventing culturally or neurologically determined alternate ways of interpretation seems to be impossible. As a logical conclusion, a first effort must be to understand how those two systems of visual meaning extraction work, before mastering them.

A book that serves this purpose very well is “Visual Intelligence” by Donald Hoffman. In this – for a work on visual thinking – moderately priced volume, the UCI cognitive science scholar describes the way the human mind processes raw imagery data in order to create meaning, and the errors that can arise from the process. Figure 1, for example, is taken from an advertising billboard by German-based development NGO, showing the german word for bread, “Brot”, with an image in place of the letter “o”. Interestingly, it seems that people socialized with an US-inspired bread culture can see the object as a sort of fat, round roll such as those used for burgers, with some crumbs on it. Yet the intended image, according to my judgement, is one of an almost empty clay bowl with some scattered rice grains.

This is what Hoffman describes in his chapter on the way we re-establish three dimensional objects from curves. In the fig.1 example, our brain is confronted with a shape that could be reconstructed into both: a convex burger with a shadow on the outside, of a concave bowl with the shadow within.

For anyone with a strong affinity to mathematics, i should mention Hoffman’s work “Observer Mechanics” that is freely available on his web site. Be warned though, as formulas will be thrown your way here.

“Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See” (Donald David Hoffman, Donald D. Hoffman)


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