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The Vision Revolution: How the Latest Research Overturns Everything We Thought We Knew About Human Vision Paperback – June 8, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


“A friendly tone, colorful everyday examples and many helpful figures will draw readers—science buffs or not—down the rabbit hole of cognitive theory and keep them there, dazzled.”
from Publishers Weekly online (starred review), May 11, 2009

“... the novel ideas that Mr. Changizi outlines in The Vision Revolution—together with the evidence he does present—may have a big effect on our understanding of the human brain. Their implication is that the environments we evolved in shaped the design of our visual system according to a set of deep principles. Our challenge now is to see them clearly.”
The Wall Street Journal, June 19, 2009

“Throughout the book, Changizi peppers his explanations with quick, fascinating visual exercises that help to drive his points home ... Changizi's theories are appealing and logical, and he backs them with good circumstantial evidence. ... One thing is certain: The Vision Revolution will make you wonder the next time you notice someone blush, catch a ball or finish reading a magazine page.”
Scientific American MIND, July 2009

“Changizi focuses on why humans have evolved such visual ‘superpowers’ as color vision and binocularity. His answers are surprising, overturning theories that have dominated primatology since the 1970s ... Readers, however, need not be well versed in academic debates to enjoy Changizi's lucid explanations. Filled with optical illusions and simple experiments for the reader to perform, this book may be the most fun you'll have learning about human cognition and evolution.”
Barnes & Noble Spotlight Review, July 13, 2009

“… most imaginative, creative and entertaining ... This book will no doubt offer a revolutionary view on our daily experience of visual perception.”
Shinsuke Shimojo, Professor in Biology/Computation and Neural Systems, California Institute of Technology

“Changizi has the unique ability to draw the reader into asking the most fundamental questions of ‘why’ rather than the more mundane ones of ‘how’...”
Romi Nijhawan, Reader in Psychology, Sussex University

“This is a book that will open your eyes to the amazing feats of visual perception.”
Michael A. Webster, Foundation Professor of Psychology, University of Nevada, Reno

“… [Changizi] fleshes out his findings and provides a fresh take on many key issues in perception.”
Robert Deaner, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Grand Valley State University

“… a book full of invention and originality. … If you want to learn how to think outside of the box, then this is a book for you.”
Peter Lucas, Professor of Anthropology, George Washington University

“... one of the most original accounts of vision ... novel ideas that are sure to radically change your mind about the way vision works.”
Stanislas Dehaene, head of the CEA Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory

From the Inside Flap

A radically new perspective on human vision is emerging. Groundbreaking research by evolutionary scientist and neurobiologist Mark Changizi is driving a revolution in our understanding of human vision. In asking why we see the way we do, Changizi overturns existing beliefs and provides new answers to age-old questions. Why do our eyes face forward? While binocular vision was helpful to our primate ancestors, its importance for 3-D vision is exaggerated. Squirrels jump from branch to branch just fine with sideways-facing eyes and many athletes, including Hockey Hall of Famer Frank McGee, play with only one eye. HINT: We evolved in a highly leafy environment. Why do we see in color, when most other mammals do not? It's not because it helped our ancestors find ripe fruit. Our color vision has evolved to be extremely sensitive to specific sets of color changes. HINT: Primates with color vision, like us, are the only ones who have areas of bare skin. Why do we see optical illusions? It's not the result of glitches in our visual system. Optical illusions can be traced back to the same specific property of vision. HINT: We are able to catch a ball coming at us much more effectively than we should given the speed at which our brains process visual input. Why do we absorb information so readily by reading? It's not because we've evolved to read; evolutionarily, reading and writing are recent developments. HINT: Language is designed to exploit skills we've refined over tens of millions of years. In The Vision Revolution, Changizi details the conclusions of his innovative fieldwork and their mind-blowing implications for our understanding not just of human vision, but of the way we interact with the world in which we live. You'll never see seeing the same way again. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: BenBella Books (June 8, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935251767
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935251767
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 5.9 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #870,180 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

MARK CHANGIZI is a theoretical neurobiologist aiming to grasp the ultimate foundations underlying why we think, feel and see as we do. His research focuses on "why" questions, and he has made important discoveries such as on why we see in color, why we see illusions, why we have forward-facing eyes, why the brain is structured as it is, why animals have as many limbs and fingers as they do, why the dictionary is organized as it is, why fingers get pruney when wet, and how we acquired writing, language and music.

He attended the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and then went on to the University of Virginia for a degree in physics and mathematics, and to the University of Maryland for a PhD in math. In 2002 he won a prestigious Sloan-Swartz Fellowship in Theoretical Neurobiology at Caltech, and in 2007 he became an assistant professor in the Department of Cognitive Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. In 2010 he took the post of Director of Human Cognition at a new research institute called 2ai Labs.

He has more than three dozen scientific journal articles, some of which have been covered in news venues such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek and WIRED. He has written three books, THE BRAIN FROM 25,000 FEET (Kluwer 2003), THE VISION REVOLUTION (Benbella 2009) and HARNESSED: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man (Benbella 2011). He is working on his fourth non-fiction book, this one on emotions and facial expressions, called FORCE OF EMOTIONS. He is simultaneously working on his first novel, called HUMAN 3.0.

[Photo credit: Rensselaer / Mark McCarty.]

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If you were to do nothing more than glance at the chapter names, you would consider this book to be a collection of occult dung powder. Old, stale, and reworked so often that it is dried up. The chapter titles are:

*) Color telepathy
*) X-ray vision
*) Future-seeing
*) Spirit-reading

However, that first impression would be a significantly wrong impression, Changizi has written such a fascinating and scientifically sound book that it remains interesting, even when you disagree with his conclusions.
The chapter "Color telepathy" describes how humans are often able to "read" a person's thoughts and diagnose the state of their health by interpreting slight changes in skin color due to the level of oxygenation in the blood. In this area, his reasoning is sound and Changizi points out that colorblind doctors have been demonstrated to be at a significant disadvantage when attempting to visually diagnose a patient. Where his reasoning breaks down is when he argues that Homo sapiens evolutionarily acquired color vision so that they could use changes in skin color to learn what other people were thinking. In my opinion, this position is untenable.
In general, predators try to blend into the environment as much as possible so that they can get as close as possible before they move in for the kill. Having an acute sense of color vision would allow the relatively defenseless human to spot the stalking predator much earlier than if they were colorblind. Although Changizi's position has some merit, the value of color vision in spotting predators is a much stronger argument for it being evolutionarily selected.
The chapter "X-ray vision" has nothing like the powers of Superman to see through solid objects, the point is quite different.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By George Poirier on August 23, 2010
Format: Paperback
How many people take the time to ponder how we humans, and our animal confreres, perceive the world through vision? It seems that theoretical neurobiologists do. Why do we see in colour? Why are our eyes in front of our heads while some animals have theirs on the sides? Why are we tricked into seeing optical illusions in certain pictures? These are some of the questions which the author tries to answer in this fascinating book. His views are certainly new compared to what many of us may have been taught in school. Yet, once the author has presented his arguments and his evidence, one must admit that, in each case, he has a point. Each of the book's four chapters begins with the basics of its subject matter and progresses from there. Arguments are eventually presented as well as supporting data. Finally, detailed theoretical views are formulated which, for me anyway, required more head-scratching.

The writing style is certainly quite authoritative, friendly, generally clear and even rather lively. Regarding accessibility, as noted above, I found the chapters quite readable but becoming progressively more complex near the ends. Overall, I learned quite a bit from this book. I was also quite surprised at much of the information presented. I think that this book can be of much value to anyone with an interest in how the eye-brain system works and why it works the way it does.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Bastian on November 8, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Why do we see in color? Why do our eyes face forward? Why do we see illusions? Why are letters shaped the way they are?"

Intriguing riddles such as these often necessitate interdisciplinary brilliance to solve. Theoretical biologist and neuroscientist Mark Changizi has been stockpiling research in these areas for much of the last decade, fixated on some of the fascinating but imperfectly understood precincts of human perception. Not content with asking how our central nervous system functions, Changizi is determined to provide explanations of why its architecture and inter-operative functionality exist as they do. The Vision Revolution, should it withstand the scrutiny of peer review, is a groundbreaking work in vision science that brings forward original research into the evolution of the human visual system.

In the book he pivots between four core ideas, each of which are given mystical titles:

1) Color telepathy: "Color vision was selected for so that we might see emotions and other states on the skin."

2) X-ray vision: "Forward-facing eyes were selected for so we could use X-ray vision in cluttered environments."

3) Future-seeing: "Optical illusions are a consequence of the future-seeing power selected for so that we might perceive the present."

4) Spirit-reading: "Letters culturally evolved into shapes that look like things in nature because nature is what we have evolved to be good at seeing."

Each entrée of this technical collation is truly mind-altering, and it is a joy to tag along as Mark architects the empirical struts of his developmental theses. Let's dive right in.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Atul V on December 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Human brain has picked, in terms of senses, vision to be its favorite - if you consider the number of neurons connected. Perhaps it is the complexity of image processing that requires such tight coupling or perhaps the evolutionary trends on this lane determined that vision could be the deciding factor in spotting opportunities and danger, getting killed or staying alive. Or perhaps both evolutionary and computational needs converge at the eye-brain integration.

I wish the font of the book (printed edition) was better and was more evenly spaced -which would have made for a better reading experience. Also, the author would have reached a lot more mainstream audience by making the style more conversational - as he does in some sections later in the book (see "My Supercomputer Is Running Slowly" in the "Future-Seeing" chapter) but not early enough. Such changes would have catapulted this book to the "Freakanomics - Outliers" level. These, though, are relatively minor points when you think about the expanse of topics presented in this book and great care given to the color pictures, photographs, charts and other artifacts.

This book is both interesting and educational and provides an optimistic note in the realm of vision research, especially for anyone frustrated with funding cutbacks in such research areas. There are many practical applications that can be drawn from this book and the work highlighted and recommend this book highly.
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