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The Perceptual Structure of Emptiness

May 29, 2012 - 4:15pm to 5:30pm
Philippines Conference Room, Encina Hall, 3rd Floor

Gert van Tonder, Associate Professor, Laboratory of Visual Psychology, Faculty of Architecture and Design, Kyoto Institute of Technology

The dry rock garden at Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, Japan, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, who marvel at the harmoniously balanced visual composition of the garden. Does scientific understanding of human visual perception give us any clues into the visual appeal of this minimalist garden? In this talk, I will show how abstract shape processing in the brain finds an equal in the abstracted order hidden in the empty spaces of the garden. Rather than proving whether or not the garden is "beautiful", the insight opens a new avenue for articulating the structural qualities of the garden design in such a way that we can connect visual appeal, brain mechanisms and perceptual experience to what otherwise seems to be no more than an empty expanse of raked gravel.

Gert van Tonder is a vision scientist exploring the functions of the human visual system, and its relation to perceptual experience. This field of study is ideally suited to investigate artistic composition, specifically how and why artistic visual effects impact visual perception. Gert currently teaches Visual Psychology for Architecture and Design at Kyoto Institute of Technology. His work has appeared in scientific journals including Nature, and in major media outlets, such as CNN, BBC, National Geographic and Discovery Channel.

Free and Open to the General Public

Event Sponsor: 
Center for East Asian Studies
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