AD 5 The illusion of seeing
J Kevin O'Regan, Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, Institut Paris Descartes de Neurosciences et Cognition, 45, rue des Saints Pères, 75270 Paris cedex 06, France. I am director of the Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception, which specialises in human visual and auditory perception both in babies and adults. Thanks to my co-directors Jacqueline Fagard and Andrei Gorea, and also thanks to the team leaders and technical and administrative staff, we manage to effectively run our rather large lab: it has about 80 members, of which 25 are permanent researchers, 7 are technical and administrative personnel, plus about 45 doctoral and postdoctoral students and visitors. The lab occupies about 800 m2 at the Institute of Neuroscience and Cognition of Paris Descartes University, at the Saints Pères Biomedical Center. The lab also has space at the Département d'Etudes Cognitives of Ecole Normale Supérieure. It is co-financed by the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique and Université Paris Descartes.
Change blindness is a much studied phenomenon in experimental psychology where under certain conditions an observer will not see a very large change that occurs in a scene, in an image or in a movie. Inattentional blindness is another phenomenon which is at the root of “looked but failed to see” traffic accidents, where for example a driver is looking directly at a motorcycle driving across his field of view, but still crashes into it. I shall provide demonstrations of these phenomena and show how they can be explained by assuming that our impression of a complete, rich, detailed outside visual world is actually in some sense an “illusion”, caused by the fact that any information we wish to obtain is immediately attainable through a flick of the eye or of attention. Developing this idea further has led me to a theory of visual consciousness, and indeed consciousness in general, that I have described in a recent book (“Why red doesn't sound like a bell: Understanding the feel of consciousness”, OUP 2011).