Beau Lotto

Neuroscientist, Artist
Beau Lotto is founder of Lottolab, a hybrid art studio and science lab. With glowing, interactive sculpture — and old-fashioned peer-reviewed research—he's illuminating the mysteries of the brain's visual system.

Why you should listen

"Let there be perception," was evolution's proclamation, and so it was that all creatures, from honeybees to humans, came to see the world not as it is, but as was most useful. This uncomfortable place--where what an organism's brain sees diverges from what is actually out there--is what Beau Lotto and his team at Lottolab are exploring through their dazzling art-sci experiments and public illusions. Their Bee Matrix installation, for example, places a live bee in a transparent enclosure where gallerygoers may watch it seek nectar in a virtual meadow of luminous Plexiglas flowers. (Bees, Lotto will tell you, see colors much like we humans do.) The data captured isn't just discarded, either: it's put to good use in probing scientific papers, and sometimes in more exhibits.

At their home in London’s Science Museum, the lab holds "synesthetic workshops" where kids and adults make abstract paintings that computers interpret into music, and they host regular Lates--evenings of science, music and "mass experiments." Lotto is passionate about involving people from all walks of life in research on perception--both as subjects and as fellow researchers. One such program, called "i,scientist," in fact led to the publication of the first ever peer-reviewed scientific paper written by schoolchildren ("Blackawton Bees," December 2010). It starts, "Once upon a time ..."

These and Lotto's other conjurings are slowly, charmingly bending the science of perception--and our perceptions of what science can be.

What others say

“All his work attempts to understand the visual brain as a system defined, not by its essential properties, but by its past ecological interactions with the world. In this view, the brain evolved to see what proved useful to see, to continually redefine normality.” — British Science Association

Beau Lotto’s TED talks

Beau Lotto on the TED Blog
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Design

How Popcorn Maker adds a new layer of information to a TEDTalk

October 19, 2012

This morning, we’re thrilled to present a TEDTalk as you have never seen a TEDTalk before — with a clickable layer of information that anyone can add to, edit or remix. Working on Beau Lotto and Amy O’Toole’s new TEDTalk, the team at Mozilla used their new web-based video editing / annotating tool, Popcorn Maker. […]

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Culture

9 talks by impressive kids

October 17, 2012

Few scientific papers are written in crayon and begin with the words, “Once upon a time.” But then again, few scientific papers are written by a group of 8 to 10-year-olds. In this adorable talk from TEDGlobal, neuroscientist, artist and educator Beau Lotto shares why he thinks children have an edge when it comes to […]

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Q&A

Q&A with Beau Lotto: On seeing yourself see

October 8, 2009

Neuroscientist and artist Beau Lotto joined the TED Blog for a short Q&A after his 2009 talk from TEDGlobal. He covered some of the fascinating, perception-bending projects he wasn’t able to cover in his talk — an iPhone game that substitutes sound for sight; a new way for composers to experience their music synesthetically — […]

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Quotes from Beau Lotto

Play is one of the only human endeavors where uncertainty is actually celebrated. Uncertainty is what makes play fun.
Beau Lotto
TEDGlobal 2012 • 953K views Oct 2012
Inspiring, Fascinating