From Cell Membranes to Computational Aesthetics: On the Importance of Boundaries in Life and Art

My next 3QD column is out. I speculate about the role of boundaries in life, curiosity, and identity.

This image is a taster:

If you want to know what this diagram might mean, check out the article:
From Cell Membranes to Computational Aesthetics: On the Importance of Boundaries in Life and Art


About Yohan

I'm a neuroscience postdoc at the Neural Systems Laboratory in Boston University. My PhD was in Cognitive and Neural Systems, and my work involves computational neural network modeling, mostly of cognitive-emotional interaction. Apart from neuroscience, I spend a lot of time engaging with music, history, politics, philosophy, and religion.
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One Response to From Cell Membranes to Computational Aesthetics: On the Importance of Boundaries in Life and Art

  1. slehar says:

    Fred Attneave (1954) drew a connection between Gestalt simplicity (prägnanz) in perception and information theory, with an experiment in which subjects were asked to predict the continuation of a pattern beyond the given sample, showing how people naturally predict a line segment or visual edge to continue in collinear fashion, a periodic pattern to continue by the same pattern, a circular arc to complete to a full circle, and a symmetrical pattern to complete the symmetry, because this requires less information to encode than any break in the pattern.

    By this logic a random pixel pattern is also predicted to continue beyond the given sample as long as you don’t care to predict the exact pixel values but just the randomness, because that is also the simplest continuation perceptually. In the same way, the perception of a three-dimensional object stimulates an “amodal” perception of its hidden rear surfaces by what I call the “representative sample principle”, i.e. the perceptual assumption that the given stimulus is a representative sample of the whole pattern, an innate perceptual expression of Occam’s Razor.

    In fact, the perceptual completion of the surrounding world, including the portion hidden behind your head, follows by this same principle.

    The basic function of perception can thus be described as a simultaneous abstraction of perceived forms to their axis of central symmetry, together with a reification of that pattern of symmetry to construct an amodal completion of the percept based on the perceived regularity.

    The axes of symmetry correspond to your “interest function”, the points that carry all the information, while the perceptual completions correspond to your “expectations function” based on the given sample.

    Leeuwenberg (1968) used the principles of information theory to devise a code for visual form based on “symmetry” (e.g. the collinear continuation of a square-section tube) and violations of that symmetry (e.g. an abrupt right-angled bend in the tube), in a hierarchical scheme (e.g. a periodic pattern of right-angled bends in the tube, etc.) showing how this concept of perceptual representation by symmetry using information theory relates to our aesthetic appreciation of ornamental patterns.

    Meyer (1967) drew a connection between patterns of music and information theory, suggesting that latent expectations represent the necessary conditions for the communication of musical information, while the disturbances, or breaks in the musical pattern, are the carriers of information.

    Several authors have proposed that the properties that we find pleasing in all aspects of aesthetic activity, including music, rhythm, poetry, dance, and visual ornament, are pleasing exactly because those properties are easily represented in the internal code of our perceptual mechanism. (Arnheim 1969, Herzberger & Epstein 1988) That the beauty in music, art, and dance, reflects a similarity between the beautiful work and the natural structure of the mind; and that beauty is perceived in objects that are complex enough to fully engage our perceptual system without overwhelming it with excess complexity, and when that complexity is expressed in a form that is naturally and efficiently encoded by our perceptual mechanism (Sander 1931). This relationship between the laws of aesthetics and the structure of mind has been called a “psycho-aesthetic hypothesis” (Lehar 2003). If the psycho-aesthetic hypothesis is right, then the principle can be inverted to deduce the properties of the perceptual representation in the brain by the laws of visual ornament.


    Arnheim, R. (1969) Art and Visual Perception: A psychology of the creative eye. Berkeley: University of California Press.
    Attneave F. (1954) “Some Informational Aspects of Visual Perception” Psychology Reviews 61 183-193
    Herzberger B. & Epstein D. (1988) Beauty and the Brain: Biological aspects of aesthetics. Basel: Birkhauser Verlag.
    Leeuwenberg E. L. J. (1968) Structural Information of Visual Patterns: An efficient coding system in perception. The Hague: Mouton.
    Lehar S. (2003) The World In Your Head: A Gestalt view of the mechanism of conscious experience. Mahwah NJ: Erlbaum.
    Meyer L. B. (1967) Music, the Arts, and Ideas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
    Sander F. (1931) Gestalt Psychologie und Kunsttheorie: Ein Beitrag zur Psychologie der Architectur. Neue Psychologische Studien, 8: 311-333.

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