From Illusions to Inference
Course Number: NEURL-UA 302 / PSYCH-UA 60
Prerequisite: PSYCH-UA 1
Why do we see two lines of the same length as different? Why do healthy people hear spoken words in noise? Why do different people see “the Dress” differently? Our sensory perception easily falls prey to illusions and biases. It is tempting to think of these as failures of our brain, but they are not! In fact, they reveal the difficult challenges that our brain faces when interpreting the world, and the clever (or not so clever) solutions that it comes up with. We will use a wide variety of well-known and lesser-known illusions (visual, auditory, tactile, vestibular, and multisensory) to understand the central concept of inference in perception: the notion that the brain constantly forms hypotheses about the outside world and tries to figure out which of them is most probable. We will draw parallels with examples from online shopping to medical diagnosis to spam filtering to election forecasting to searching for crashed planes. Assignments will focus on critical thinking and active learning, rather than on memorization.