Food for Thought: Visual Illusions Good Enough to Eat [Preview]

Face or food? The brain recognizes edible artwork on multiple levels

Spanish artist Din Matamoro provides a unique perspective on developmental biology's most fundamental question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? In Matamoro's fried eggs, ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny in an unusual and slightly unsettling fashion: the shape of each fried egg resembles that of the chicken that the egg would have become or perhaps the hen that laid the egg in the first place.

Such ambiguity illusions recapitulate visual perception as a type of ontogeny in and of itself. Objects, in this case chickens, are built in the henhouses of our mind from nuggets of visual information sent from the retina. These little visual giblets activate circuits that process animal shapes (birds in this case) as well as circuits that process food data. This kind of multiple-channel processing is at the heart of all ambiguity: the neural basis of ambiguous perception is two or more brain circuits that compete for dominance in our awareness.

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