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Classifying and explaining relationship


My interest in the evolution of vision
Richard Gregory Scientist
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I’m very interested in the evolution of vision, how it is that we can become cognitive in the sense that we act by understanding from simple response to stimuli. And I think this is a very interesting thing. I think it goes from reception, if you like, to perception, then to conceptions where you can think explicitly. I think there are these three big stages and there are different parts to our brain which represent these three stages in evolution and I’m really quite interested to develop that further. I think it’s very interesting both evolutionarily and in thinking about how the brain is organised and the relationship of perceiving something to understanding is a very peculiar one. For example, you can have an illusion, say, a distortion illusion or any sort of these things you get in children’s books of weird things happening, you can know that you’ve got this illusion, you can explain it and you’ve still got the thing. In other words, your understanding of it, awareness of it, in-in terms- explicit understanding, does not destroy the illusion, the perception, so that perception, how we see and how we understand, are amazingly separate. It really is an amazing thing this, and of course this has relevance to teaching when you can show somebody the truth and in a way they can see it perhaps and not understand it and other occasions you can understand what’s going on but you can’t see it properly. For example, there are illusions called Impossible Objects or Impossible Figures, which you simply cannot make sense of them at all. They look impossible. You can understand why they look impossible conceptually but you still can’t process it in the visual system so the brain is in separate modules and one module doesn’t always talk to another. This, I think, has huge implications and moral implications really because one bit of your brain is giving a certain behaviour but another bit of the brain can’t assess that, can’t appraise it, can’t judge it, can’t criticise it, and of course we’re several people, we’re not really one person in our heads; we’re lots of people trying to talk to each other and often failing within the brain. I think these things are quite important really.

The late British psychologist and Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Bristol, Richard Gregory (1923-2010), is well known for his work on perception, the psychology of seeing and his love of puns. In 1978 he founded The Exploratory, an applied science centre in Bristol – the first of its kind in the UK. He also designed and directed the Special Senses Laboratory at Cambridge which worked on the perceptual problems of astronauts, and published many books including 'The Oxford Companion to the Mind', 'Eye and Brain' and 'Mind in Science'.

Listeners: Sally Duensing Adam Hart-Davis

Sally Duensing currently is involved in perception exhibition work and research on science and society dialogue programmes and is working with informal learning research graduate students and post-docs at King's College, London. In 2000 she held the Collier Chair, a one-year invited professorship in the Public Understanding of Science at the University of Bristol, England. Prior to this, for over 20 years she was at the Exploratorium, a highly interactive museum of science, art and perception in San Francisco where she directed a variety of exhibition projects primarily in fields of perception and cognition including a large exhibition on biological, cognitive and cultural aspects of human memory.

Born on 4 July 1943, Adam Hart-Davis is a freelance photographer, writer, and broadcaster. He has won various awards for both television and radio. Before presenting, Adam spent 5 years in publishing and 17 years at Yorkshire Television, as researcher and then producer of such series as Scientific Eye and Arthur C Clarke's World of Strange Powers. He has read several books, and written about 25. His latest books are Why does a ball bounce?, Taking the piss, Just another day, and The cosmos: a beginner's guide. He has written numerous newspaper and magazine articles. He is a keen supporter of the charities WaterAid, Practical Action, Sustrans, and the Joliba Trust. A Companion of the Institution of Lighting Engineers, an Honorary Member of the British Toilet Association, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Dyers and Colourists, and Merton College Oxford, and patron of a dozen charitable organizations, Adam has collected thirteen honorary doctorates, The Horace Hockley Award from the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators, a Medal from the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Medal from the Institute of Incorporated Engineers, and the 1999 Gerald Frewer memorial trophy of the Council of Engineering Designers. He has no car, but three cycles, which he rides slowly but with enthusiasm.

Duration: 2 minutes, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2006

Date story went live: 02 June 2008