New theory makes vision transparent

July 24, 2013
New theory makes vision transparent

A computational vision scientist at the University of South Australia has just published new research describing a key advance in our understanding of how the brain perceives the physical world.

"My research tries to account for everyday aspects of visual surface perception, like how we perceive frosted white glass, a glossy black car, or a brightly lit moon through grey cloud," says Dr Tony Vladusich, a Research Fellow in the Computational and Theoretical Neuroscience Laboratory at the University of South Australia's Institute for Telecommunications Research (ITR).

"When we look at objects, we see that their surfaces vary in appearance in different ways, such as black to white, matte to glossy, and opaque to transparent," says Dr Vladusich.

"The way objects appear to us is partly based on how physical surfaces reflect and transmit light, and partly on the way the interprets the patterns of light reaching the eye. How the brain constructs our experience of different surface dimensions from these light patterns has long remained a mystery," he says.

In several articles published in the past year —- the latest appearing in the Journal of the Optical Society of America A —- Dr Vladusich introduced a new of how we perceive various surface dimensions, termed gamut relativity. The theory's name relates to the observation that the shades of black, grey or white that we experience on a surface, technically known as a 'gamut' depend on whether the surface is seen as opaque/transparent and matte/glossy.

"Traditional theories of vision suppose that the brain rather literally 'represents' the physical dimensions of surfaces, like building a miniature version of the world inside the brain.

"The new insight in the theory of gamut relativity is to show how brain computations can give rise to the experience of surfaces as varying along different physical dimensions, without literally representing those dimensions in the brain.

"Gamut relativity thus avoids some of the philosophical traps that have plagued conventional theories of vision, and in so doing solves many outstanding problems concerning how we see glossy and transparent surfaces.

"This theory could in future help in the design of engineered vision systems that will be able to classify objects and materials based only on their appearance. The theory thus offers new solutions to both deep philosophical conundrums and practical engineering problems", says Dr Vladusich

ITR's Computational and Theoretical Neuroscience research group leader Dr Mark McDonnell says the new insights are a significant advance in understanding how the human visual system represents information about surfaces.

"These insights will help guide our research into creating mathematical models and simulations of how the electrical activity of neurons in the brain supports the transformation of sensory information into perception," says Dr McDonnell.

Explore further: How watching Pixar revealed the dark side of gloss

Related Stories

How watching Pixar revealed the dark side of gloss

September 26, 2012

(Medical Xpress)—A eureka moment while watching a movie for the umpteenth time with his children has led a University of Sydney researcher to achieve a new insight into visual perception, which could benefit traditional ...

Decoding touch

April 23, 2013

With their whiskers rats can detect the texture of objects in the same way as humans do using their fingertips. A study, in which some scientists of SISSA have taken part, shows that it is possible to understand what specific ...

Sugar solution makes tissues see-through

June 23, 2013

Japanese researchers have developed a new sugar and water-based solution that turns tissues transparent in just three days, without disrupting the shape and chemical nature of the samples. Combined with fluorescence microscopy, ...

Recommended for you

Skin stem cells used to generate new brain cells

April 25, 2017

Using human skin cells, University of California, Irvine neurobiologists and their colleagues have created a method to generate one of the principle cell types of the brain called microglia, which play a key role in preserving ...

How brains process facial expressions

April 25, 2017

Have you ever thought someone was angry at you, but it turned out you were just misreading their facial expression? Caltech researchers have now discovered that one specific region of the brain, called the amygdala, is involved ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jul 24, 2013
"How the brain constructs experience" is highly philosophical.
As if there is no reign over the ability to construct experience. Actively or passively.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.