An eye for detail is a truly wonderful thing

Basic Vision

November 24, 2006

Of the many textbooks offering an introduction to vision, Basic Vision is without a doubt the most amusing. The authors' irreverent sense of humour not only provides entertainment, it also serves to make the content much more accessible than its stuffier, more traditional rivals.

The other feature that sets the book apart from its peers is its presentation. As the authors point out, vision scientists really ought to be in the ideal position to produce a visually attractive book, yet this is rarely the case.

Here, there are colour figures on almost every page, illustrating key concepts with illusions and graphical examples. Of course, these attributes would not compensate for deficits in scientific content, but in this regard too the book more than holds its own.

The content of Basic Vision is not that basic, it is appropriate for a final-year undergraduate course on visual perception and for sparking the interest of good students earlier in their degrees. Importantly, where simplified accounts of visual processing are presented for ease of exposition they are not oversimplified, and every chapter ends with a list of readings and references for those who want to delve more deeply.

In terms of content, much of what goes into a textbook on vision is inevitably generic: chapters on the eye, the visual cortex and the perception of specific attributes such as colour, motion and spatial form.

However, as early as chapter two Basic Vision introduces the conceptual issues of visual coding and image processing, challenging the reader to consider what we are actually trying to do with our visual system.

The final chapter, "How we know it might be so", is innovative in its discussion of the relative merits of the many experimental techniques for studying vision - from classical psychophysics to modern brain-imaging approaches.

Overall, the quality of this book reflects the fact that the three authors together boast more than 80 years of experience of teaching visual perception. I plan to adopt this text in my final-year undergraduate teaching, and I would certainly recommend that others to do the same.

Good science can be fun - and this book exemplifies that.

Colin Clifford is associate professor of psychology, University of Sydney, Australia.

Basic Vision: An Introduction to Visual Perception. First Edition

Author - Robert Snowden, Peter Thompson and Tom Troscianko
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Pages - 382
Price - £.99
ISBN - 0 19 928670 1

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