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Conferences & lectures

The science of art and illusion

A lecture featuring Patrick Cavanagh, senior research fellow at Glendon College and research professor at Dartmouth College

Date & time

Wednesday, October 2, 2019
12 p.m. – 1 p.m.


Patrick Cavanagh


This event is free


Montreal General Hospital
1650 Cedar Ave., Room L7-140, Montreal, Quebec, H3G 1A4

A piece of art can trigger many emotions and impressions, many of them just as the artist intended. However, the same painting may also reveal, unintentionally, much about the workings of the brain — how the brain recovers the light and space and surfaces that we see. These are privileged insights not available from studying vision with natural scenes or photographs. These insights depend on undetected errors in representation.

Painters often stray from photorealistic styles, taking liberties with the rules of physics to achieve a more effective painting. Critically, some of these transgressions of physics such as impossible shadows go unnoticed by viewers — these undetected errors are the ones that tell us which rules of physics count for visual perception.

As artists find the rules they can break without penalty, they act as research neuroscientists and we have only to look at their paintings to uncover and appreciate their discoveries. This lecture will use art and illusions in art to do ‘science by looking,’ unlocking basic rules of visual cognition discovered by artists.

The BRaIN Program of the RI-MUHC is kindly organizing and hosting this talk. The Convergence Initiative is a proud co-organizer of this event.

About the Convergence Initiative

The Convergence Initiative is an independent non-profit initiative developed in partnership with the Brain Repair and Integrative Neuroscience (BRaIN) Program of the RI-MUHC, Concordia’s Faculty of Fine Arts and Visual Voice Gallery. The initiative receives support from the Canadian Association for Neuroscience, the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, the Integrated Program in Neuroscience of McGill University and the Montreal General Hospital Foundation.

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