The brain, the artificial neural network and the snake: why we see what we see

Carloalberto Treccani*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


For millions of years, biological creatures have dealt with the world without being able to see it; however, the change in the atmospheric condition during the Cambrian period and the subsequent increase of light, triggered the sudden evolution of vision and the consequent evolutionary benefits. Nevertheless, how from simple organisms to more complex animals have been able to generate meaning from the light who fell in their eyes and successfully engage the visual world remains unknown. As shown by many psychophysical experiments, biological visual systems cannot measure the physical properties of the world. The light projected onto the retina is, in fact, unable to specify the physical properties of the world in which humans and other visually ‘intelligent’ animals behave; however, visual behaviours are habitually successful. Through psychophysical evidence, examples of the functioning of Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) and a reflection upon visual appreciation in the cultural and artistic context, this paper shows (a) how vision emerged by random trial and error during evolution and lifetime learning; (b) how the functioning of ANNs may provide evidence and insights on how machine and human vision works; and (c) how rethinking vision theory in terms of trial and error may offer a new approach to better understand vision—biological and artificial—and reveal new insights into why we like what we like.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1167-1175
Number of pages9
JournalAI and Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Philosophy
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Artificial Intelligence

User-Defined Keywords

  • Machine vision
  • Human vision
  • Visual arts
  • Perception


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