VISUAL INTELLIGENCE

HOW WE CREATE WHAT WE SEE

A cognitive scientist synthesizes recent findings of vision researchers to unveil some of the secrets and explore still-unsolved puzzles of how we see. Hoffman (Univ. of Calif., Irvine) argues that children are born with innate rules of universal vision just as Noam Chomsky has argued for innate rules of universal grammar. These inborn rules of vision allow children to acquire, through visual experience, rules of visual processing by which the child constructs, in a multiplicity of stages, visual scenes. The first 20 of these rules, as spelled out here, have to do with seeing shapes. Rule 1, for example, is “Always interpret a straight line in an image as a straight line in 3D.” Next are eight rules for color and seven rules for motion. These are illustrated with line drawings and photographs—120 in black-and-white and 30 in color—that draw the reader into participating in his demonstrations. The problem of showing motion is neatly solved by Hoffman: he directs readers to his Web site, where all the motion displays discussed here can be viewed. Like V.S. Ramachandran (Phantoms in the Brain, p. 1096), Hoffman draws on patients with pertinent brain anomalies to explain normal visual intelligence. Also like Ramachandran, he uses phantom limbs to explore briefly the sense of touch, for Hoffman is persuaded that the brain constructs not only what is seen, but also what is felt, heard, smelled, and tasted. He closes with a venture into the world of virtual reality that inspires a series of probing questions into the relationship between what we see relationally (i.e., what we interact with) and what we see phenomenally (i.e., what the visual intelligence constructs). With its many fascinating visual demonstrations, Hoffman’s presentation fully engages the reader, demanding and rewarding attention.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-393-04669-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1998

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

MASTERY

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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