'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Top-down and Bottom-up

It may be stating the obvious to mention that when looking at something, we impose top-down concepts and images from our memory along with the bottom-up perception of what is in front of our eyes.

As Siรขn Ede says in 'Art And Science' (2005); 'When we look at a ... scene ... we may receive only partial information but our brains automatically fill in the gaps to make sense of things.'

Likewise when we stand in front of a piece of art. This tendency of our brains to 'fill in' can be exploited in art. Neurobiologist Semir Zeki believes that the most compelling artworks are those which contain only vague clues and perhaps even those works that are actually incomplete. They are the ones that make the viewer work hardest, with a pleasurable payoff when the imagination 'solves' the problem.

Although this is only a news item, it explores the work of Zeki and the pleasure some kinds of art gives us compared with other types.

Here is Semir Zeki's excellent and thought-provoking blog.


  1. This post has led me through a whole string of follow-ups (or is it follows up?) which have been very interesting and sometimes perplexing.

    Your second sentence is also interesting when considered in the slightly different context of words where, providing the first and last letters of a word are correct, the brain apparently unscrambles the letters in between into the 'proper' word even if they have been jumbled up.

  2. Glad to have led you a merry dance :-)
    Ah yes, that fun paragraph example that's done the rounds by email... I think I posted it here once.

  3. My brain, being somewhat literal (or maybe not), sees a Yankee Clipper ship, or a lava flow down a mountainside, or great beams of sunlight coming down from the clouds. The beginnings of a tree are on the left, or perhaps the Crucifixion.

    I do not see a ducky or a horsey.

  4. Excellent Robert. It is a piece of old hardboard that I found in a shipyard.