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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

2. The Physiology of Seeing

Op Art finally made sense to me once I read a book about the physiology of seeing. Why didn't I learn about this in Art History? Too much science? Why didn't I learn about it in Biology...too arty?! 'Eye and Brain' by Gregory ought to be compulsory at school for every student...with eyes and a brain.

Op Art plays with the various biological limitations of human visual perception and the differences between the physical properties of the eye and the systems the brain employs for post-processing our visual world.

Man is, biologically speaking, virtually blind. We are able to perceive just a small fraction of observable light. (We are also pretty deaf - as any dog might tell you.)

I find our limitations reassuring, humbling. These facts are delicious and point out how flawed we are and remind us how difficult it is for us to build a rational picture of the world around us. We are not biologically predisposed to find life easy to understand!

In my reading on evolution the eye is a wonderfully flawed design and it relies on all sorts of complex interactions with and image post producing by the brain. Susan Greenfield, Head of the Royal Society of neuro Surgeons in the UK offered further, fascinating insight in her books including 'Brain Story' and 'The Private Life of the Brain'.

The evolution and design of the eye was also a turning point in the acceptance of Darwinian theory. Darwin nearly revoked his core thesis based on his doubts that the perfection of the eye could be anthyting other than a purposeful design rather than a result of the processes of evolution. His theory was later reassuringly proven right by a couple of Dutch evolutionary biologists who mapped the evolution of the eye to 72 steps.

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