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Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See Paperback – 12 Apr 2000

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New Ed edition (12 April 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393319679
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393319675
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 2 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 161,361 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Visual intelligence, cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman writes, is the power that people use to "construct an experience of objects out of colours, 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, Amazon.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Artists as well as pundits of perception could gain a lot from [this] book..." -- Richard Gregory, The Times Literary Supplement

"[Donald Hoffman] combines a deep understanding of the logic of perception, a gift for explaining it with simple displays that anyone can-quite literally-see, and a refreshing sense of wonder at the miracle of it all." -- Steven Pinker

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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By mrevans.holywell@virgin.net on 6 Oct. 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a ground breaking book. Hoffman proposes that seeing is a creative act of intelligence and that we literally create the visual world we live in. He explains, with persuasive clarity, that this ability is innate. We are born visually competent and that all we need to acquire visual skill is to see. Seeing is not something we learn to do, it is something we grow to do.
Hoffman shows that the image at the eye is two dimensional, not, as many people believe, three dimensional. He further shows that the visual cortex, according to certain rules, converts that 2D image into a 3D image. Hoffman describes these rules simply and clearly and with more than ample illustration. In all Hoffman describes 35 rules, most of which concern how we convert a 2D image at the retina into a 3D image in the brain. He also deals with some aspects of seeing motion.
In many ways Visual Intelligence makes a break with the traditional ways of dealing with visual perception. He comes at it from cognitive science rather than the older perspectives of psychology. For this reason this book is both powerful and up to date. Although Hoffman makes only passing reference to visual art what he has to say about how we see is hugely relevant to the work of artists who work in 2D media.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Paul G. Brewer on 1 Oct. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Nice item
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 20 reviews
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
I loved reading this book 8 April 2002
By Joshua M. Tanzer - Published on Amazon.com
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.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
How our senses create reality 6 Nov. 2006
By Taylor Ellwood - Published on Amazon.com
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 be...in 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.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Visual process as active construction 27 April 2000
By Cynthia Sue Larson - Published on Amazon.com
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.
31 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Overall, a great introduction to human vision 26 May 1999
By George S. Schneiderman - Published on Amazon.com
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.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Interesting, Useful Read for Graphics/VR Students 23 Feb. 2001
By Shankar N. Swamy - Published on Amazon.com
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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