Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Brain and 1st Impressions, Part 2

First impressions are more heavily influenced by nonverbal cues—they are estimated to have over four times the impact on the impression you make than by what you say. You are ‘selling yourself’ all the time in a sense. That’s just another way of saying that the impression you make on others can have ramifications for years to come. The ‘universal sign’ of acknowledgement is said to be the ‘eyebrow flash.’ You can raise an eyebrow slightly or open your eyes a bit more than normal to simulate the ‘eyebrow flash.’ No surprise, smiling is another positive nonverbal. A genuine smile indicates friendliness, approachability, and an invitation to converse. (Of course raising an eyebrow or offering a genuine smile is predicated on whether or not one’s face lift or Botox injections permit that much facial movement. If not, you’ll need to rely more on how you dress and other nonverbals such as the amount of warmth in your tone of voice or the quality of your handshake.) Part 3 tomorrow.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Brain and 1st Impressions

You’ve no doubt heard that you have a mere 7 seconds in which an interviewer or a stranger will form an impression of you, an impression that is nearly indelible. Or is it 3 seconds? Take a deep breath: research indicates that you need to have your act together in the blink of an eye, in about 1/10 of a second. The brain appears hard wired to make hundreds if not thousands of lightening-speed computations when you meet another individual for the first time. Some say: ‘You never have a second chance to make a good first impression professionally and rarely have a second chance to make a good first impression on a personal level.’ In this, the Era of the Brain, you may want to revisit this topic. You may be going for a job interview or looking for a good pal if not a life partner or you may be retired and wanting a friend. Assuming you pass muster in that first 1/10 of a second, what else can you do to reinforce a positive impression? Part 2 tomorrow.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Torre di Pisa – and Brain Perception

When I first see something in person (as compared to pictures—the ones that induced me to add that something to my bucket list), it sometimes seems less impressive. Other times, it far exceeds my expectations. The Leaning Tower of Pisa falls into the latter category. Pisa, the capital city of the Province of Pisa in Italy, is perhaps best known worldwide for the bell tower of the city’s cathedral. And, yes, it definitely is leaning. Its weight is estimated at 15,000 tons. The tower has 296 or 294 steps (the seventh floor has two fewer steps on the north-facing staircase). Prior to restoration work done
between 1990 and 2001, the tower reportedly leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees but it now leans at about 3.99 degrees. The top of the tower is displaced horizontally 3.9 meters (12 ft 10 in) from where it would be if the tower were perfectly vertical. What a treat for me and my brain to see it up close and personal!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pliny the Elder – to the Rescue

In my June 2nd blog, I recounted the old story about two painters and their trompe l’oeil competition. While visiting Pompeii I learned more. It seems that Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny the Elder) A.D. 23–79, Roman naturalist, encyclopedist, and writer, included that story in his work entitled “Naturalis Historia.” The date of his death (A.D. 79) intrigued me as that was the date Vesuvius spouted the ash that buried the Roman sea-port of Pompeii. A little more investigation revealed that his nephew, named Pliny the Younger, wrote an account that was discovered in the 16th Century. Pliny the Elder had noticed the cloud spouting from one of the mountains. Unsure which mountain was involved he had decided to sail from Misenum toward the Herculaneum-Pompeii coast line to investigate. Just prior to sailing, he had been handed a message from Rectina, wife of Tascus, whose house was at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius, imploring Pliny the Elder to rescue her by sea (as escape by land was impossible). So he made for Pompeii. The enjoyed reading the account by his nephew (who became a lawyer at age 19). You may, too.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Pompeii and Trompe L’Oeil

Many of you have expressed an interest in the way the art-form of trompe l’oeil tricks the brain into perceiving 3D from a flat surface. Always alert to examples of trompe l’oeil, I was interested to learn (on a recent trip to Italy) that this type of art goes back a very long way. Today, the earliest murals of trompe l'oeil art that exist can be found in the ruins of Pompeii and Eurculaneum and have been dated back to the first century A.D. If you’re interested in seeing some of these trompe l’oeil murals, here are a couple of websites:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Optical Illusions versus Trompe L’Oeil

Is trompe l’eoil an example of ‘humor art’ or ‘optical illusion’? Many use the term ‘illusion’ to encompass both. Some researchers say that trompe l'œil pictures and optical illusion designs are the same in the sense that they are both connected with the human mechanism of visual perception—but in academic terms trompe l'œil and optical illusions differ from one another. “In short, trompe l'œil does not make use of optical illusion.” The key difference is that with a trompe l'œil the inconsistency is exposed in its entirety just before the brain completes the process of seeing. In psychology this is termed “high-order perception.” In contrast, an optical illusion occurs at the point when the brain perceives shape or color, which is termed “low-order perception.” In other words, it occurs in the very first stage of the process of seeing.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Brain and 'Seeing'

Are you absolutely certain that what you see is what is really there? Actually, the world you see is not necessarily the actual world in front of you. In other words, what you are seeing is not the world as it really is. The brain function of ‘seeing’ is rather subjective. In part this is because each eye really does have a ‘blind spot.’ There is no retina at the point opposite the pupil of your eye where the fibers of the optic nerve bunch together. This means there is no ‘seeing’ at this spot on the retina. Most people do not notice this because the brain tends to fill in what you cannot see. This natural phenomenon is believed to contribute to your brain’s perception of both optical illusions and trompe l’oeil—believed to reflect slightly different types of human visual perception. How do optical illusions and trompe l'oeil differ? More tomorrow.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Aix-en-Provence and Jeanne Louise Calment

On my trip to the South of France, I was reminded that Dutch post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, also lived in Arles from 1888 to 1889. Jeanne Louise Calment was born in 1875 and said that at the age of 13 she met Vincent van Gogh, when he came into her uncle's shop to buy canvas in 1888. McCook Daily Gazette (Paris) reported that Calment had found van Gogh to be "dirty, badly dressed, and disagreeable.” Evidently fascinated by the Provençal landscapes, van Gogh is said to have produced over 300 paintings and drawings during his time there, including: the Yellow Room, The Night Cafe, L'Arlésienne Starry, and Night Over the Rhone. It was during this period of time that van Gogh's mental health deteriorated and he became alarmingly eccentric, culminating in the well-known ear-severing incident in December 1888, which resulted in two stays in the Old Hospital of Arles. Jeanne Louise may have known about the 'ear' incident. Hmmm.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Aix-en-Provence and Arles (Club 122 Longevity)

Some of you know that I (and my two co-authors for Longevity Lifestyle Matters--Keeping Your Brain, Body, and Weight in the Game, Briggs and Horton), created Club 122 Longevity. It was named for Jeanne Louise Calment (1875-1997, the oldest human being whose age has been clearly documented. She was born, lived, and died, at the age of 122 years and 164 days, in Arles. Consequently, it was a real treat to sail to Aix-en-Provence in the South of France recently, docking at Marseilles, the oldest city in all of France, dating back to 600 BC. The town of Arles is located about 45 miles West of Marseilles, on the coast of the French Riviera. Arles apparently became a favorite city of Emperor Constantine I, who built baths there, substantial remains of which are still standing. His son, Constantine II, was born in Arles. Constantine III declared himself emperor in the West (407–411) and made Arles his capital in 408. I would like to return and spend a few days there visiting ruins from antiquity. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Trick of the Eye, 8

Oh well. One more. I told you it was dangerous for my brain to get this piece of know-how! I actually taught beginning gymnastics for a while—in the last century…

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Trick of the Eye, 7

And last but not least, the river of lava.  Okay, you get the idea. Well, that was fun for my brain, both
when it actually happened and again on this little trip down memory lane. In the process I learned how to insert a picture into a blog. Dangerous piece of knowledge for my brain. Now it will want to do that often!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Trick of the Eye, 5

And finally, riding the waves on the back of the Merlion. As you may know, the Merlion is a traditional creature in western heraldry that depicts a creature with a lion head and a body of a fish. In Singapore, it has become a marketing icon used as a mascot. There is a great statue of the Merlion at the harbor, which you’ve no doubt seen if you’ve visited Singapore. (And I have these pictures thanks to the kindness of Roger Wong!)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Trick of the Eye, 3

 In for a penny, in for a pound—as the old saying goes. I located a few more examples from my trip to the Singapore Trick Eye Museum.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Trick of the Eye, 2

Here is an example of a trompe l'oeil. It’s of my personal tour guide at the Singapore Trick Eye Museum, Roger Wong, and myself. We simply traded places in the tromp l’oeil set and, in the process, traded ‘heights,’ as well.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Trick of the Eye

Having never had the opportunity to experience a Trick Eye Museum, imagine my delight to discover that one had recently opened in Singapore. I had the great good fortune to experience this trompe l’oeil with a personal tour guide, Roger Wong. Located at Resorts World Sentosa's Waterfront, the Singapore Trick Eye Museum includes more than 80 three-dimensional paintings in 800 square meters of space. These works are presented in six themed zones: Love, Circus, Masterpiece, Safari, Fairytale, and Adventure. And “adventure” is exactly what it is! Created with the local context in mind, the works reportedly aim to capture Singapore's essence as a cosmopolitan city with a thriving ecosystem, and feature influences from both Eastern and Western cultures to reflect the island's status as a cultural melting pot. If you get the opportunity to go to a Trick Eye Museum, take it. I had lots of fun there. My brain loved it, and for once in my life I felt “taller.” You’ll see what I mean in tomorrow’s blog.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Trompe L’Oeil and the Brain, 5

Enter Trick Eye Museums. They’re based on trompe l’oeil—a French phrase meaning ‘deceive the eye.’ And that’s exactly what they do. The museum’s 3D artworks look as if they’re coming out of the frame or that you’re stepping into the frame; putting yourself in the picture, so to speak. There are any number of interactive settings that allow you to become part of the landscape from flying on a witch’s broom, careening through Alaska on a dogsled pulled by enthusiastic and energetic Huskies, to water skiing on the snouts of two powerful dolphins. Cameras are allowed (no flash) and by carefully taking pictures from just the right angle, you can come away with interesting photos of yourself interacting with trompe l’oeil settings. I had heard of these museums but never been in one. Reportedly, there are now three Trick Eye Museums in South Korea (Seoul, Hongdae, and Busan) but they were opened after my trip to that country. I’ll include a picture or two in my blogs next week.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Trompe L’Oeil and the Brain, 4

The technique of forced perspective is used in some theme parks, as well. You may have seen it, too, but may not have realized what you were actually seeing. Disneyland, for example. The Sleeping Beauty Castle in America’s Disneyland and in the Hong Kong Disneyland makes use of forced perspective. The actual height is reported to be 77 feet. However, the scale of the architectural elements is much smaller in the upper portions of the castle as compared with the scale at the foundation. This makes the castle seem much taller than it really is. A similar technique is used for Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and at Tokyo Disneyland. The actual height is listed at 189 feet. Again, the scale of the architectural elements gets smaller the higher up you go on the castle. The human eye thus perceives the height of the castle to be significantly taller than it really is. Hmm. More tomorrow.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Trompe L’Oeil and the Brain, 3

Trompe l’oeil is sometimes referred to as perspectival illusionism. A comparable illusion to Trompe-l’oeil is found in forced perspective, a technique employed to make an object appear farther away, closer, or larger or smaller than it actually is. Used primarily in filmmaking, photography, and architecture, it manipulates human visual perception by using scaled objects and the correlation between them and the vantage point of the spectator or camera. You’ve likely seen this in a variety of movies and may not have realized what was happening. For example, Wikipedia points out that this technique was utilized in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring with some enhancements for use in moving shots. Portions of sets were mounted on movable platforms that would move precisely according to the movement of the camera, so that the forced perspective would be preserved for the duration of the shot. The same techniques were used in the Harry Potter movies to make the character Hagrid appear to be a giant. Props around Harry and his friends are of normal size, while seemingly identical props placed around Hagrid are in fact much smaller. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Trompe L’Oeil and the Brain, 2

The question is: does your eye really see what is actually there? Although you are certain it does, maybe not. Trompe l'œil is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create a sense of 3D. The object is to induce you to believe that whatever is depicted is three dimensional. Many of these illuisions actually exist on a flat surface, however. (You may have seen this in some sidewalk murals.) Dating from before the Baroque period, murals from Greek and Roman times were known to exist in places such as Pompeii, where a typical trompe l'œil mural might depict a window, door, or hallway, intended to suggest a much larger room. There is an old Greek story that purports a contest between two renowned painters: Zeuxis (born around 464 BC) and Parrhasius, a rival artist. Zeuxis produced a still life painting so convincing that birds flew down to peck at the painted grapes. Parrhasius asked Zeuxis to judge one of his (Parhasius’) paintings that was behind a pair of tattered curtains in his study. Parrhasius asked Zeuxis to pull back the curtains, but when Zeuxis tried, he could not, because the curtains were Parrhasius’s painting. Of course, that made Parrhasius the winner. Part 3 tomorrow.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Trompe L’Oeil and the Brain

Recently I received several questions about Trompe l’oeil, so I decided to revisit that topic. Easy to do because it’s a favorite of mine. Trompe l’oeil is a French expression meaning ‘trick the eye.’ It refers to an art form or decorating technique designed to ‘trick’ or deceive the eye into thinking that a depicted object is three dimensional. (Trompe means ‘trick’ and ‘oeil’ means eye.)

English speaking individuals sometimes find it hard to prounounce because the word oeil involves two sounds which are not usually prounounced together in English. The ‘oe’ letters form one sound, which moves into the ‘i’. I remember it by thinking of the Yiddish expression ‘oy vay.’ The French oeil sounds a bit like the Yiddish ‘oy.’ So the expression would sound something like ‘tromp loy.’ And, yes, the French phrase is talking about eye, singular. (The word for ‘eyes’ in French is yeux.) Okay, so what does Trompe l’oeil describe? More tomorrow.