From illusions to inference:
Adventures in human perception

Why does one monster appear larger? (It is not.)
Roger N. Shepard's Terror Subterra

                shadow illusion
Why do we see A as darker than B?
(They are the same shade of gray.)
Edward Adelson's Checkerboard Shadow Illusion

What is this guy saying? Then replay it with your eyes closed.
McGurk and MacDonald, 1976

3D sidewalk painting by Julian Beever
How can you fool a wine expert? (Quite easily.)
Why do healthy people hear spoken words in noise?
Why do we eat more when we see there is more food left? 

Our sensory perception easily falls prey to illusions and biases. It is tempting to think of these as failures of our brain, but they might not be! In fact, they reveal the difficult challenges that our brain faces when interpreting the world, and the clever (and sometimes not so clever) solutions that it comes up with. 

In this course, we will use a wide variety of well-known and lesser-known illusions (visual, auditory, tactile, vestibular, and multisensory) to work towards the central concept of inference: 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 fun examples from online shopping to medical diagnosis to spam filtering to election forecasting to searching for submarines. We will have guest lectures by outside experts: one about neurological disorders of perception, about illusions in aviation, and about 3D illusory street art.

Topics will include...

Spring 2016 semester

Prerequisite: Intro to Psychology, or instructor permission.
Counts as "advanced elective" for Psych majors

Time: Mondays 4-6:30 PM
Location: Meyer 815

Instructor: Wei Ji Ma, Ph.D.
weiji ma
Lab website

Grading (tentative):
50% homework
15% midterm
20% final
15% class participation