Ways of Seeing
Movies, Pictures, and Visual PerceptionA Conversation with David J. Field and James E. Cutting, Psychology
Movies and pictures help us understand how the human visual system is organized.
SNEAD: Together, you run a perception lab in the psychology department, but you approach your individual research a bit differently. David, you use mathematical modeling as a tool for looking at pictures.
FIELD: There is an implicit belief that the human visual system is general purpose: that it can recognize and efficiently deal with any image. To understand how our visual system works and why it works, I have argued that we need to understand the statistics of the world we live in and how the visual system processes those particular statistics.
With modeling, I can simulate thousands of neurons and investigate how the population responds to a complex natural scene. I have found that this approach allows us to understand why visual neurons have their unique response properties.
I also do perceptual experiments with human observers. I believe this combination of theory and experiment provides important insights into visual processing.
TO CUTTING: But you look at movies.
CUTTING: For the last four years I’ve been studying Hollywood movies. I claim that film structures teach us about the mind. We have not evolved to watch movies; instead, movies have evolved to match our perceptual and cognitive systems. They have changed over time to match what we understand best and how we like stories organized. I study the temporal structure of the movies, how they change in time. I measure shot lengths, brightness, color, and motion and look at transitions between shots. I can make good inferences about the evolution of movies by tracking such changes and finding out how stories are told.
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