mosaicSee the picture on the left.

I think it’s pretty incredible–not just because it’s an awesome piece of art, but because it provides a fantastic example of the versatility of your visual processing system

See how you can switch back and forth from seeing the “big picture” (the Renaissance-style face) and the details of the smaller images that make up the face. A grimace (or smile?) for the eye. A pipe for the nostril. A shoulder for the top of the ear. A background for the nose. How can your visual system process such disparate details to see the whole?

One theory that might account for this is that the brain processes details and big pictures in separate parts of the brain. In the right hemisphere, you see the totality of the face. Your right hemisphere is able to follow the broad sweeps and compare the general view against other faces it has seen, so that it can send a message up your brain saying, “Aha! It’s a face.” In the left hemisphere of your brain, you focus on the details. You see a series of other faces rather than the individual face. When you switch from looking at the big picture to the details, you’re switching the side of your brain that dominates at that moment.

By the way, this piece of art is called “Adam: One Blood, Many Nations” and is a mural created by Lewis Lavoie. It’s huge, 16 feet x 20 feet.  If you’d like to see more of his mosaic murals in this same style, check out his website. There are a bunch of great ones, like Heroes, Year of the Rabbit, The Horse Gift, and many others. On the site, you can click on individual pictures within the big picture to see what each one is