Yes, this will be two talks for the price of one. Or rather one talk and one rambling discussion.
The first talk - the first part of my talk - will focus on attention. Everyday life is a struggle to cope with an overload of sensory information and focus on relevant details. Our capacity for attention is vital in helping us perform daily tasks. Other animals face a similar challenge - think of bees searching for rewarding flowers in a meadow or a hawk choosing between different prey. They would also be well served by attention-like processes that help them focus on sensory information that would help them find food, mates or avoid predators. We know far less of these processes in non-primates. Given the differences in brain structures and sensory processing in different animals, do they have unique sensory and attention-like solutions? Or could vastly different brains nonetheless show similar processes underlying selective attention?
To answer these questions requires a definition of attention that psychologists, neuroscientists and ethologists can agree on. There is no shortage of definitions of attention in psychology. Which one do we choose for our research program? I argue that it is instead better to identify definitive functional characteristics of attention and look for these in animals. I will focus on these characteristics and discuss how behaviour with similar characteristics has been demonstrated in animals, with examples from insect vision. I will ask if this is sufficient to demonstrate attention and point towards further processes that define attention, which we can investigate in animals. At the end of this section, I will outline a possible framework using which we could look at the evolution of attention by looking for these processes in different animals.
The second, shorter part of my talk will discuss my ongoing attempts at communicating science through art. In doing so Im often faced with a problem- how do I create something of interest to both scientists and artists? A didactic science primer is often perhaps of little artistic interest. On the other hand, artworks inspired from science often might not engage with the science itself and have nothing to say about it. I will discuss how I've tried to combine science and art with comics (which may or may not have artistic merit) about scientific papers. This will hopefully open out a broader discussion on the variety of means by which we can bring the two together.
Nityananda, Vivek (
Insect stereopsis demonstrated using a 3D insect cinema