The Visual World of Shadows

The Visual World of Shadows

by Roberto Casati, Patrick Cavanagh


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How the perception of shadows, studied by vision scientists and visual artists, reveals the inner workings of the visual system.

In The Visual World of Shadows, Roberto Casati and Patrick Cavanagh examine how the perception of shadows, as studied by vision scientists and visual artists, reveals the inner workings of the visual system. Shadows are at once a massive problem for vision—which must distinguish them from objects or material features of objects—and a resource, signaling the presence, location, shape, and size of objects.

Casati and Cavanagh draw up an inventory of information retrievable from shadows, showing their amazing variety. They present an overview of the visual system, distinguishing between measurement and inference. They discuss the shadow mission, the work done by the visual brain to parse, and perhaps discard, the information from shadows; shadow ownership, the association of a shadow with the object that casts it; shadow labeling, the visual system's ability to tell shadows from nonshadows; and the shadow concept, our knowledge about shadows as a category. Casati and Cavanagh then apply the theoretical apparatus they have developed for shadows to other phenomena: illumination, reflection, and transparency. Finally, they examine the art of the shadow, paying tribute to artists' exploration of shadow, analyzing a series of artworks (reproduced in color) from a rich and fascinating art historical corpus.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262039581
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 05/28/2019
Series: The MIT Press
Pages: 408
Product dimensions: 8.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Roberto Casati is the Director of the Jean Nicod Institute and Professor at EHESS in Paris. He is the coauthor of Holes and Other Superficialities and Parts and Places: The Structures of Spatial Representation, both published by the MIT Press.

Patrick Cavanagh is a Senior Research Fellow at Glendon College of York University, Toronto, and Research Professor at Dartmouth College.

Table of Contents

Preface vi

1 Information in Shadows 1

2 Secondary Aspects of Information in Shadows 34

3 The Visual System 54

4 The Shadow Mission 80

5 Shadow Ownership 106

6 Labeling Shadows 134

7 The Shadow Concept 186

8 Illumination 214

9 Shadows, Reflections, and Transparency 236

10 The Art of the Shadow 288

11 Shadows in Art: A Methodological Appendix 337

12 Conclusions 347

Glossary 349

Notes 355

References 365

Index 381

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“I love this book. Not since Leonardo has anyone so carefully and accurately described the, surprisingly to me, many properties of shadows. After reading it, I find myself observing shadows as I never did before, especially the astigmatic shadows of elongated fluorescent lights.”

Margaret S. Livingstone, Takeda Professor of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School

“The word 'shadow' is a familiar linguistic term: 'She worked for a shadow agency,' 'She emerged from the shadows,' 'He is a shadow of his former self, and 'the shadow of war,' to name a few. As these phrases suggest, shadows can be somewhat mysterious. Casati and Cavanagh's beautifully written and beautifully illustrated book elucidates the nature, importance, and beauty of shadows.”

Hany Farid, Professor, School of Information, University of California, Berkeley

“Beyond a shadow of doubt—this book is destined to become a classic. We usually regard shadows as a device for accentuating the artistic appeal of pictures, not as a subject worthy of scientific study. Casati and Cavanagh dispel this view using cleverly designed experiments to illuminate the science underlying the world of shadows.”

V. S. Ramachandran, Distinguished Professor, University of California, San Diego; author of The Tell-Tale Brain

“This book is a wonderful journey in the world of light and shadows. It is an authoritative essay by two of the scientists who have made the greatest discoveries on shadows in recent times. The book is flush with basic principles, some natural, others counterintuitive, always richly illustrated. It will interest not just scholars who work on shadows, but anyone interested in optics, human perception, and the visual arts. Read this book and you will share the excitement of artists and scientists who have been bewildered by the number, complexity, and beauty of all the shadows around them.”

Pascal Mamassian, Directeur, Laboratoire des Systèmes Perceptifs, École Normale Supérieure, Paris

“Vision science can inspire artists and art can inspire vision scientists, and this interplay has flourished in recent years. Now, in one of the finest examples of this new synergy, Casati and Cavanagh have mined a rich vein, using shadows to illuminate both vision and art. In lively language, the authors present the fundamental paradox of shadows: how crucial they are to the construction of our perceived world and yet how unnoticed and unremarked their existence. The many fascinating photos and gorgeous paintings enrich this lively romp through the world of shadows.”

Alan Gilchrist, Professor, Department of Psychology, Rutgers University

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