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Podcast: 3 Ways The Brain Creates Meaning

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Podcast length: 6 minutes 26 seconds

Podcast Description

This podcast comes from TED 2009, where Tom Wujec - an information expert at Autodesk - gives a quick talk about ways the brain creates meaning out of the environment it is perceiving. It should be noted going in, that this person is not a neuroscientist or neuroengineer.

Presenter Biographies

Tom Wujec

Tom Wujec is a Fellow at Autodesk, the makers of design software for engineers, filmmakers, designers. At Autodesk, he has worked on software including SketchBook Pro, PortfolioWall and Maya. As a Fellow, he helps companies work in the emerging field of business visualization, the art of using images, sketches and infographics to help teams solve complex problems as a group.

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20.2 MB

Podcast viewing notes

He starts out by talking about the 'Big Viz', which was a project from TED 2008 which attempted to clarify the complexity of the entire conference and every speaker's work into a combination of 650 sketches by two visual artists. The surprising finding from that experiment was that it really worked: it really helped attendees keep the presentations and the technologies crisp in their minds.

From that the talk launches into a discussion on why that works. What is it about graphics and illustrations that create meaning? He attempts to answer that. As he says, the more we understand about the creation of meaning, the more we understand about communication and the better we can communicate with one another.

We take a look at a 3D model of the brain and step by step describe how the visual information collection process works, beginning with the eyes and their overlapping field of vision. From there, it goes to the primary visual cortex, which recognises only simple shapes. These shapes trigger relays that move to other parts of the brain, each carving out meaning from the specialised information.

Up to 30 other processing regions may be involved, who then pass their discoveries on to further regions. Three of these areas are discussed.

The first is the ventral stream, on the left of the brain. It deals with object recognition: Taking a given object and pattern matching it to the internal database, to find a match and stick a label on it.

The second is the dorsal stream, located at the back of the brain. It deals with spatial locations. Ventral identified what the object was; this now works out where it is.

The third is the limbic system, deep in the reptilian hindbrain. An ancient part of the brain, it triggers gut reactions.

These three segments he singles out, because information bounces from one to another and it is a very well defined pathway. This becomes the focus of the remaining two and a half minutes of the presentation, to discuss how to set up visual information to best trigger this particular pathway.

One major problem with this approach of course is that it completely ignores and even dismisses out of hand, any non visual method of processing data, as well as the other 27 visual sensory pathways. View with a pinch of salt.

Additional Research Links

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Untitled Document .