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From Helmholtz to Gombrich and The Beholder’s Share: predictive perception and human experience

Monday, February 6, 2017 - 5:00pm

Stitleler Hall B26

Anil Seth
Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science
University of Sussex

Science and art have long realized that experience depends on the involvement of the experiencer. In art history this is Gombrich’s “Beholder’s share”, and in science this traces to Helmholtz’s concept of perception as inference. The shared idea is that our perceptual experience – whether of the world, of ourselves, or of an artwork – depends on the active interpretation of sensory input.  Perception becomes a generative act, one in which biological and sociocultural influences conspire to shape the brain’s “best guess” of the causes of its sensory signals. In this lecture, I will trace the links between these ideas, calling informally on distinct artistic styles (like impressionism, expressionism, and cubism) and (in a more informed way) on recent developments in the cognitive neuroscience of predictive perception, emotion, and embodied selfhood. This is not neuroaesthetics – the attempt to reveal the brain basis of aesthetic responses. Instead, I hope to show how art and brain science can be equal partners in revealing deep truths about human experience. 

Reception to follow.