To understand the human mind it is necessary to understand what we actually see when we open our eyes. Color suggests an answer to this question: we see not the world as it is, but a world that was useful to see in the past.
Beau Lotto performs a series of experiments involving the sky, music and bumblebees that show how quickly the brain can learn to see what is useful, and demonstrate that our perception and conception of the world reflects our past physical, social and cultural interactions.
These optical and color experiments illustrate that none of us is an outside observer of nature defined by our essential properties, but is instead defined by our interactions with nature.
Join RSA to experience how color, vision and "seeing ourselves see" can contribute to a richer, more empathetic view of nature and human nature.
R. Beau Lotto
Beau Lotto is founder of Lottolab, a hybrid art studio and science lab. With glowing, interactive sculpture - and good, old-fashioned peer-reviewed research - he's illuminating the mysteries of the brain's visual system.
Beau Lotto's color games puzzle your vision, but they also spotlight what you can't normally see: how your brain works. This first-hand look at your own versatile sense of sight reveals how evolution tints your perception of what's really out there.
"Let there be perception," was evolution's proclamation, and so it was that all creatures, from honeybees to humans, came to see the world not as it is, but as was most useful. This uncomfortable place - where what an organism's brain sees diverges from what is actually out there -is what Beau Lotto and his team at Lottolab are exploring through their dazzling art-sci experiments and public illusions. Their Bee Matrix installation, for example, places a live bee in a transparent enclosure where gallery goers may watch it seek nectar in a virtual meadow of luminous Plexiglas flowers.
The studio’s work, the brain-like (that is, multidisciplinary) organization includes large-scale public engagement works. It's holding regular "synesthetic workshops" where kids and adults make "color scores" - abstract paintings that computers interpret into music, as with scrolls fed to a player piano. These and Lotto's other conjurings are slowly, charmingly bending the science of perception and our perceptions of what science is. "All his work attempts to understand human perception as a system defined, not by its essential properties, but by its past ecological interactions with the world. In this view, the brain evolved to see what proved useful to see, to continually redefine normality."
Beau Lotto’s research and installations have been featured on, not one but two BBC Horizon programmes. The first was aired in 2010 and was reported to be the most popular Horizon for over a decade. The promo spot on BBC’s homepage received the most hits of any item on the BBC page for many ears – 1,000,000 after only 3 hours. The second programme will air in Autumn 2011. Beau has also been a TED speaker. Speakers in his session included Gordon Brown and Stephen Fry. Lotto teaches at University College London.
He received a Ph.D. from Edinbergh's Medical School in cellular and molecular developmental neurobiology, and was a research fellow at Duke University.