Reviews; March 1997; Scientific American Magazine; by da F. Costa, Wallich, Powell, Goldsmith; 5 Page(s)
Second to no machine in its performance, human vision is--or at least seems to be--comprehensive, effortless and instantaneous. There is a tendency to consider it pure in its simplicity, to think of the image we see as a direct impression of the world outside ourselves. Yet vision is an elaborate process that demands about half the overall capacity of the primate brain¿s cortex. And even with that complexity (indeed, often because of it), vision is in fact limited in many aspects. The dynamic and often contradictory nature of seeing is the organizing theme of this interesting, but sometimes gloomy book, which covers many issues not usually considered in texts on visual science.
James Elkins, an art historian by training, sets out by denying the popular concept of vision as a passive activity--that we are "just looking." In reality, our eyes are constantly and actively seeking something, whether we are visiting an art museum or just watching the clouds roll by. Furthermore, seeing is not entirely under our control. When and where our gaze settles next is to a great extent determined by our surroundings and by what we had been looking at before.