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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Professor Colin Blakemore: Vision Impossible

9th March 2009, 18:00 to 19:00, The Miner's Institute lecture theatre in the Lit & Phil (Newcastle)

This is the fourth and final lecture in the 'Well Brain' public lecture series

Our capacity to see the world around us is the culmination of more than half a billion years of evolution. But the most important product of that process is not the eye itself, but the gradual discovery by the brain of new ways of interpreting the retinal image. Most of what we do with the gush of information from our eyes - controlling our hands, guiding our posture, deciding what to look at - happens without awareness. But we also perceive the world consciously, like a finely detailed, ‘real-time', seamless movie.

However, science is revealing that visual perception is largely an extraordinary conjuring trick that creates the reassuring sense of reality out of almost nothing. Although vision seems continuous, rich and stable, it is actually a rapid series of snapshots, each one lost as the eyes move on. And during each snapshot, the brain gathers and stores only a tiny amount of information. A deep question emerges: if our conscious awareness if based on such a small fraction of what we see, why do need to be conscious of anything?

Professor Colin Blakemore FRS studied Medical Sciences in Cambridge and completed a PhD in Physiological Optics at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1968. In 1979 he was appointed Waynflete Professor of Physiology at Oxford and Professorial Fellow at Magdalen College, and from 1996-2003 he directed the Oxford Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience. Between 2003 and 2007 he was on leave while serving as Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council. He is now Professor of Neuroscience.

Colin has been actively involved in the public communication of science for more than 30 years. He is a frequent broadcaster on radio and television, has published a number of books about science for a general readership, and he writes for the national and international media. He works with and for the Science Museum, London, the European Dana Alliance for the Brain, the Cheltenham Festival of Science, the Science Media Centre and Sense about Science. He is President of the Association of British Science Writers.

Colin’s research has been concerned with many aspects of vision, the early development of the brain and plasticity of the cerebral cortex.


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