UIST2.0 Archive - 20 years of UIST
Back to keywords index



In Proceedings of UIST 2009
Article Picture

Interactive viscosity (p. 1-2)

Abstract plus

Your conscious experience is not a function of the world, it is a function of the neural networks of your brain. Therefore, the biology of the brain and consciousness is as fundamental to understanding the universe, as we know it, as the high-energy physics of subatomic particles. This is especially true for the study of sensory and cognitive illusions, since they represent effects that clearly stand out as not representing the real world. That is, since illusions don't match reality we can know that by studying illusions we are studying exactly what the brain is actually doing, and not just what we think the brain should be doing. Your brain does a staggering amount of pragmatic self-dealing guesswork and outright confabulation in order to construct the highly imperfect mental simulation of reality known as "consciousness." This is not to say that objective reality isn't "out there" in a very real sense--but no one lives there. No one's ever even been there for a visit. Ironically, the fact that consciousness feels like a solid, robust, fact-rich transcript of reality is just one of the countless illusions your brain creates for itself.

Illusions are not errors of the brain. Far from it. Illusions arise from processes that are critical to our survival. Our brains have developed illusory processes so that we may experience the world in a ready-to-consume manner. Remove the machinery of illusion, and you unwind the entire tapestry of human awareness. Illusions are those perceptual experiences that do not match the physical reality. They are therefore exquisite tools with which to analyze the neural correlates of human perception and consciousness. Neuroscientists have long known that they can only be sure of where they stand, in terms of correlating neural responses to awareness, when they correlate the awareness of an illusion to the brain's response, specifically because of the illusions' mismatch with reality. The study of illusions is therefore of critical importance to the understanding of the basic mechanisms of sensory perception and conscious awareness.

If you've ever seen a good magician perform, you know how thrilling it is to watch the impossible happening before your eyes. The laws of physics, probability, psychology and common sense--the four trusty compass points in your mental map of reality--are suddenly turned into liabilities. Objects and people appear, vanish, levitate, transpose, transform, and with all your smarts you can't imagine how it's being done. Magicians are the premier artists of attention and awareness, and they manipulate our cognition like clay on a potter's wheel.

And the mechanisms underlying magic perception have implications for our daily lives. The magical arts work because humans have hardwired processes of attention and awareness that are hackable. By understanding how magicians hack our brains, we can better understand how we work.

sensory illusion

In Proceedings of UIST 2000
Article Picture

Illusions of infinity: feedback for infinite worlds (p. 237-238)