Redefining Normality



Dr Beau Lotto is founder of Lottolab, a hybrid art studio and science lab. With glowing, interactive sculpture -- and good, old-fashioned peer-reviewed research – he is illuminating the mysteries of the brain's visual system.

Dr Beau Lotto is a Principle Investigator at the Lottolab at University College London in the Institute of Ophthalmology’s Vision Research Department. He earned a B.Sc. from the University of California, Berkeley, and a PhD in developmental neuroscience from Edinburgh University Medical School. Research in the Lottolab combines ecological, behavioural, and computational neuroscience to investigate the general principles that describe the causal relationships between the past (experience) and the present (adaptation) in biological systems, focusing primarily on the enigmatic realm of colour perception and behaviour.

"Let there be perception," was evolution's proclamation, and so it was that all creatures, from honeybees to humans, came to see the world not as it is, but as was most useful. This uncomfortable place -- where what an organism's brain sees diverges from what is actually out there -- is what Beau Lotto and his team at Lottolab are exploring through their dazzling art-sci experiments and public illusions. Their Bee Matrix installation, for example, places a live bee in a transparent enclosure where gallery-goers may watch it seek nectar in a virtual meadow of luminous Plexiglas flowers. (Bees, Lotto will tell you, see colours much like we humans do.) The data captured isn't just discarded, either: it is put to good use in probing scientific papers, and sometimes in more exhibits.

 (Bio adapted from

About this lecture:

Context is everything. Here, within the realm of human, bee and artificial life colour vision, we will explore why this must be the case. In doing so, we will discover that the relationship between the external world of light and the internal world of colour is far from simple, and that by exploring this complex relationship we can begin to understand why we see what we do. The result of this exploration may be surprising. Rather than a representation of an absolute external reality, what we see and how we see it is a manifestation of an empirical process of interaction, of continually redefining normality. We see what proved useful to see in the past.

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