The Visual Brain

This Sunday’s New York Times Style section featured a piece on the possibilities of reincarnation. One interviewee, Peter Bostock, uses his belief in past lives to explain the incredible passionate connection he feels with is wife. According to Mr. Bostock, he and his wife share the sort “of attraction and recognition that a soul makes when it encounters the familiar.” As famed neurologist Oliver Sacks says, “recognition is based on knowledge and familiarity is based on feeling.” The brain offers invaluable clues that help explain our subconscious desires. The photo of Mr. Bostock and his wife demonstrate how similar they are to one another. The cause for their intense connection is the chemistry ignited by their facial feature compatibility. Current neuro-science has illuminated the many ways in which our visual perception is manifest as a neurological function.

The numerous physiological aspects of vision are the focus of a   tremendous amount of ongoing research in numerous fields. What we   currently know is that there are types of visual information, which are not consciously perceived but are still conveyed and processed. Hence, we interpret stimuli in ways that are not always obvious to us. Most of us don’t know that the people to whom we are most physically attracted have facial features similar to our own because those visuals cues get translated in the unconscious regions of our brain. The eye takes an image but it is the brain that makes sense of it. The optic nerve transmits the received visuals to the cerebral cortex where nerve cells communicate with one another. One particularly pertinent and fascinating discovery was the confirmation of a special face recognition feature in the brain that responds selectively to faces. It’s been proven that faces are unlike all other stimuli; research indicates that by two months old, babies are responding to faces and interacting with others based on exchanged facial expressions. Proof of the unique primacy of the face is also evident because facial perception uses a separate pathway in the brain located at the bottom of the temporal lobe.

Once that intense connection is established, that’s when desire kicks in. And we thought passion was simple.

Below are photos of Mena Suvari and husband Simone Sestito, Paul Volker and Anke Dening, Batchelorette Ali Fedotowsky and fiance Roberto Martinez, and HRHs Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel of Sweden.

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