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Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See Paperback – February 17, 2000

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New edition edition (February 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393319679
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393319675
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #209,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Visual intelligence, cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman writes, is the power that people use to "construct an experience of objects out of colors, lines, and motions." And what an underappreciated ability it is, too; despite the fact that the visual process uses up a considerable chunk of our brainpower, we're only just learning how it works. Hoffman aptly demonstrates the mysterious constructive powers of our eye-brain machines using lots of simple drawings and diagrams to illustrate basic rules of the visual road. Many of the examples are familiar optical illusions--perspective-confounding cubes, a few lines that add up to a more complex shape than seems right. Hoffman also takes a cue from Oliver Sacks, employing anecdotes about people with various specific visual malfunctions to both further his mechanical explanation of visual intelligence and drive home how important this little-understood aspect of cognition can be in our lives. An especially intriguing example involves a boy, blind from birth, who is surgically given the power to see. At first, he is completely unable to visually distinguish objects familiar by touch, such as the cat and the dog. Other poignant examples show clearly how image construction is normally linked to our emotional well-being and sense of place. Visual Intelligence is a fascinating, confounding look (as it were) at an aspect of human physiology and psychology that very few of us think about much at all. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

With wit, insight and charm, Hoffman, University of California, Irvine professor of computer science, cognitive science and philosophy, explains in this spectacular volume how we use vision to construct the world around us. Hoffman does a masterful job of demonstrating that vision encompasses so much more than merely what we see, and of illustrating that much of what we see may not, in fact, exist. Presenting the 35 rules of vision that scientists claim we use to piece together our environment ("Rule 1. Always interpret a straight line in an image as a straight line in 3D"), he analyzes many common optical illusions, explains how we perceive motion, color and depth, and philosophizes about the nature of reality and perception. Throughout, Hoffman makes wonderful use of myriad photographs to demonstrate the points he is making. The photos in the chapter on motion fail, necessarily, to catch the imagination the way the others do, but an ancillary Web site allows observation of the full motion of his examples. Not only is this book an outstanding example of creative popular science but, given the many optical illusions it presents, it's also the rare book that, in line with its subject, can be thoroughly enjoyed both right side up and upside down. Twenty color and 130 b&w illustrations. Agents: Katinka Matson and John Brockman.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Joshua M. Tanzer on April 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is a lot of fun to read, not only because it's really interesting but because you learn through experience while you read. The book is about how our minds interpret the visual information that our eyes see, and it includes many visual examples -- optical illusions, basically, that make you pay attention to how your mind is working while you take in the experience.
I read the book because of an interest in graphic design, and it brings design concepts together with psychology and biology in a really involving way. It was just a pleasure to read from the beginning to almost the end.
Another reviewer points out that the last chapter is a bit of a letdown, and that's true. It's kind of an "everything's relative and you construct your own reality" message that's obviously very important to the author for academic reasons but much less so to the audience. Still, it takes nothing away from the rest of this fascinating book.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Taylor Ellwood VINE VOICE on November 5, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I got turned onto this book in graduate school, but never got around to reading it until now. But having read it, I'd have to say it's a fascinating book about vision and the cognitive functions of the brain that help people construct what they see. The author also briefly discusses the sense of touch and how it constructs reality, but the main focus is on vision.

What I really liked was the explanation behind optical illusions. I didn't agree with everything the author wrote, because I found with some of the exercises that my experiences differed from his. Yet what this book does show is that what we see isn't always he objective reality we'd like it to fact rarely, at least through our senses, is reality objective.

If there's one complaint I had, it was that he purposely chose to leave out the citations. Granted he drew on a lot of work, but it'd be nice to trace his sources and the context of those sources. That said I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in how our senses help us construct reality.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia Sue Larson TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
We construct our visual and perceptual experience of objects by touch, taste, smell, sound and sight -- or as cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman writes in VISUAL INTELLIGENCE, "... to experience is to construct, in each modality and without exception". Hoffman sets forth an extremely detailed and convincing explanation to support this assertion, and in the process takes us on a journey through the rules of visual intelligence. Many of us know that we construct each curve or surface we see, since the rods and cones inside our eyes use discrete pixel-like "dots" that can only approximate the images we perceive... but I didn't realize until I read this book how powerfully our visual interpretations affect our emotional responses.
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28 of 35 people found the following review helpful By George S. Schneiderman on May 25, 1999
Format: Hardcover
To a degree, this book does for vision what Stephen Pinker's marvelous "The Language Instinct" did for language--explain the complexity of each of these problems, and the ways in which our minds address them. Hoffman is not as good a writer as Pinker, but most scientists are not, and this can be forgiven.
The last chapter is rather annoyingly post-Modernist though, in its insistence the arbitrariness of the relationship between the "real world" and "what we see". This also reflects an underlying weakness of the book: its failure to adopt an evolutionary perspective that would help to explain not only HOW vision works, but also WHY it works that way. Nonetheless, within the scope of what it sets out to do (explain the basic rules by which our minds process the flat images on our retinas to produce vision, and also to illustrate how much in this field remains unknown or poorly understood), and given its brief length (barely 200 pages), the book succeeds admirably. Well worth reading.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Shankar N. Swamy on February 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
I have no formal background in Biology, Cognitive Sciences, Anatomy or Psychology. I am interested in human vision, as it relates to Computer Graphics and Vitural Reality - some of my primary areas of interest. I picked up this book because it seemed to be about the "How's of visual processing" than the "Why's" of it. And the book seemed like a less time intensive read - important for someone who is not a full time researcher in the area of the book. It did not disappoint me.
Modeling, and representation of most phenomena in a digital computer lag in precision compared to their originals in the physical world. They are pronouncedly more so with Computer Graphics, on which is founded the field of Virtual Reality. I believe that a researcher in VR should modify the kernel of his projects to rely on the ways of making virtual entities LOOK closest to their physical counterparts, rather than blindly simulate those entities with the closest precision possible. Thus, for a good VR universe, frequently, it is "fake the best" you can to recreate the virtual EXPERIENCE closest to the EXPRIRENCE of reality.
"Experience" is the goal; not (always) the precision per se of the underlying simulation. That is where this books comes handy. Understanding how the "Visual Intelligence" works goes a long way in learning how to fake it. Chapters 3 ("The Invisible Surface That Glows"), 4 ("Spontaneous Morphing"), 5 ("The Day Color Drained Away") are particularly of interest to Graphics/VR students.
I would have given a 5-star, if the author had made the "case histories" more readable and less verbose. In fact I skipped reading some of those!
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