Dali helps scientists crack our brain code

Scientists at Glasgow University have established a world first by cracking the communication code of our brains.

Pioneering research in the field of cognitive neuroimaging has revealed how brains process what we see. The work has been led by Prof Philippe Schyns, the head of Glasgow’s school of psychology, with more than a little help from Voltaire and Salvador Dali. How Dali’s mind worked is a matter of continuing conjecture. But one of his works has helped unlock how our minds work. Or more precisely, how our brains see.

Prof Schyns explains: “Our main interest was to study how the brain works as an information processing machine. “Typically we observe brain signals but it is quite difficult to know what they do .”Do they code information from the visual world – do they not? If so, how?” Do they send information from one region of the brain to another region of the brain? If so, how?”

Which is where Salvador Dali comes in. And for that matter Voltaire.In 1940, Dali completed his painting “Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire”. And there at the heart of the image is Voltaire. Or is it? His bust is what some people see. Others see Voltaire’s “eyes” as the heads of two figures – usually a pair of nuns.

This visual ambiguity was of course Dali’s intention. But by asking test subjects which image they saw – or neither – the researchers were able to map how the brains processed the information. As expected, the right side of the brain handled the left side of the image and vice versa.

But Prof Schyns says the research revealed much greater detail: “We found very early on, after around 100 milliseconds of processing post-stimulus, that the brain processes very specific features such as the left eye, the right eye, the corner of the nose, the corner of the mouth. “But then subsequent to this, at about 200 milliseconds {…} we also found that the brain transfers features across the two hemispheres in order to construct a full representation of the stimulus.” Edited from: Dali helps scientists crack our brain code

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