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Design for How People Think by John Whalen

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Chapter 2 In the Blink of an Eye: Vision, Attention, and Automaticity

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In the Blink of an Eye: Vision, Attention, and Automaticity

From Representations to Experiences

Think of a time when you were asked to close your eyes for a big surprise (no peeking!), and then opened your eyes for the big reveal. At the moment you opened your eyes, you were taking in all kinds of sensations: light and dark areas in your scene, colors, objects (cake and candles?), faces (family and friends), sounds, smells, emotions (joy?). It is a great example of how instantaneous, multidimensional, and complex an experience can be.

Despite the vast ocean of input streaming in from our senses, we have the gift of nearly instant perception of an enormous portion of any given scene. It comes to us so naturally, yet is so difficult for a machine or a self-driving car. Upon reflection, it is amazing how “effortless” these processes are. They just work. You don’t have to think about how to recognize objects or make sense of the physical world in three dimensions, except in very rare circumstances (e.g., dense fog).

These automatic processes start with neurons in the back of your eyeballs, with input passing through your corpus callosum to the back of your brain in the occipital cortex, then your temporal and parietal lobes in near real time. In this chapter we’ll focus on the “what” and in the next we’ll focus on the “where” (Figure 2-1).

Figure 2-1

What/where pathways

With almost no conscious control, ...

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