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Puzzling things happen in human perception when ambiguous or incomplete information is presented to the eyes. Rivalry occurs when two different images, presented one to each eye, lead to alternating percepts, possibly of neither image separately. Illusions, or multistable figures, occur when a single image can be perceived in several ways. The Necker cube is the most famous example. Impossible objects arise when a single image has locally consistent but globally inconsistent geometry. Famous examples are the Penrose triangle and etchings by Maurits Escher.

In this lecture Ian Stewart will demonstrate how these phenomena provide clues about the workings of the visual system, with reference to recent research in the field which has modelled simplified, systematic methods by which the brain can make decisions. In these models a neural network is designed to interpret incoming sensory data in terms of previously learned patterns. Rivalry occurs when different interpretations are confused, and illusions arise when the same data have several interpretations.

The lecture will be non-technical and highly illustrated, with plenty of examples.

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