Donald D. Hoffman, Visual intelligence: How we create what we see, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998. A cognitive and computer scientist summarizes the science related to visual perception by describing the rules that we use to construct visual scenes. As suggested by the title, the book takes the view that we create our visual experiences, including the various aspects of form, color and even motion. Filled with examples, it is the most readable and entertaining introduction I have encountered to the empirical literature on vision. It also identifies many limits to our current knowledge, suggesting lots of interesting areas for research.

Margaret Livingstone, Vision and art: The biology of seeing, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002. This is both the most entertaining and thorough of the books on vision I have encountered. Its discussions of the evolutionary and physiological foundations for the perception of color, dimensionality, and motion are linked to our experience of art, so it should be of interest to many of you. Livingstone addresses one of the great debates in color theory by arguing that both the trichromatic and the opponent-color (originally suggested by Goethe in 1810) processes are correct. She illustrates how repetitive patterns can create the illusion of depth and explains why impressionist paintings seem to shimmer. She even explains the Mona Lisa’s smile. I carried this book around with me for days on a family vacation, cajoling everyone around to look at the many suprising effects its illustrations provide and to share in the joy of the many puzzles its author has solved.

Albert Michelson, Light waves and their uses, Chicago, 1903.

Ian Stewart, Nature’s numbers: The unreal reality of mathematics, New York: Basic Books, 1995. This book provides a vision. Indeed, it begins and ends with narratives that describe Stewart’s dreams. In the preface he dreams first of a virtual reality machine, a machine that will make visible the imaginings of mathematicians much as a musical performance transforms the score of a composer into something our senses can enjoy. And near the end of his book, his dreams soar in still a loftier direction, to the creation of a new mathematics. He imagines a mathematics that possesses intellectual rigor while at the same time permitting for more conceptual flexibility than our current restrictive numerical schemes. He calls this second dream “morphomatics”, an effective mathematical theory of form. This book represents the kind of inspired thinking that might one day link the image world artists are creating with that of scientists, engineers, and managers.