Mark Changizi – “Cultural selection as the new blind watchmaker” at “I don’t know where I’m going but I want to be there”

On: December 21, 2011
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About Sjoerd Tuinema
I'm a New Media MA student at the University of Amsterdam, carry a bachelor degree on Communication and Media Management, do design-work and am known as a notoire media junkie.


In his presentation at MOTI‘s “I don’t know where I’m going but I want to be there” theoretical neurobiologist Mark Changizi elaborated on the research method he applies to investigate the field of why it is that the human brain processes optical information like it does. Instead of trying to look for answers in and around the exact ‘wiring’ of our brains, which largely is still a black box, Changizi in his books looks at the natural and evolutionary indicators that have influenced how our brains process imagery.

The Vision Revolution by Mark ChangiziRather than looking at why the brain responds like it does to visual cultural artifacts, this approach of looking at how natural selection affected visual perception, to Changizi, seems more fruitful when discussing design as something that has emerged out of cultural selection. Since the visual and oral tradition is a predominant aspect of society, Changizi describes culture as “a new kind of blind watch maker”.

In his books, “The Vision Revolution” and the recently published “Harnessed“, Changizi seeks out parameters that have their origin in nature such as color, the starburst shape, writing and music. For example, the starburst shape which is commonly used in design, can be found moving quickly through space (streaks start appearing from a center point). What is eventually applied in design is an optical illusion of movement; it generates the perception of how the world will look in the matter of a second.

One of the other disciplines that can be explained through natural selection is music of which the variables can be traced within the sounds made by humans. For example, beat and rhythm can be connected to gait, pitch to direction, loudness to distance and tempo to speed. Eventually, the binding factor in the relation between music and human dynamic can be found in that they share the property of having a trajectory; “a fictional story of a movement in space which can be ultimately understood through nature”.

In conclusion, Changizi believes that in order to understand why aspects in design and visual and oral culture exist and operate like they do, neuroscientists beyond looking at the brain for results, should not shy away from a nature-harnessing methodology to “fill in the unexplanatory”.

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