In praise of artifice

Nicole C. Rust, J. Anthony Movshon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The visual system evolved to process natural images, and the goal of visual neuroscience is to understand the computations it uses to do this. Indeed the goal of any theory of visual function is a model that will predict responses to any stimulus, including natural scenes. It has, however, recently become common to take this fundamental principle one step further: trying to use photographic or cinematographic representations of natural scenes (natural stimuli) as primary probes to explore visual computations. This approach is both challenging and controversial, and we argue that this use of natural images is so fraught with difficulty that it is not useful. Traditional methods for exploring visual computations that use artificial stimuli with carefully selected properties have been and continue to be the most effective tools for visual neuroscience. The proper use of natural stimuli is to test models based on responses to these synthetic stimuli, not to replace them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1647-1650
Number of pages4
JournalNature Neuroscience
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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