Lab of Misfits is the world's first public perception research space.
Perception underpins everything that we feel, think and believe. It is the source of all artistic expression and scientific exploration. What we perceive IS who we are.
The universality of perception gives us at Lab of Misfits the freedom and logic to work outside the contrived boundaries between people, disciplines and institutions, and has enabled and inspired us to locate our lab within London's Science Museum thereby uniting science, the arts and education in one space.
Through our research, we seek to deepen both our scientific and philosophical understanding of human perception. Central to our ethos is the inclusion of the public at the centre of the process of discovery, which brings with it, not only new scientific insights, but also the potential for personal and social transformation, reflected in our programmes of public engagement.
For more background on Lab of Misfits' work, go to About
Explaining the biological principles that are common to all visual animals.
Understanding how and why we see what we do will ultimately require understanding the complex, emergent and interdependent relationships between biology and psychology. Here, we feature work relevant to the mechanisms of seeing. This includes research on bumblebees as this has the potential to explain the biological principles that are common to all visual animals, including humans.
Investigating how the human mind makes sense from the senseless
Since there is no inherent value in the incredibly complex patterns of light that fall onto our eyes, the brain tells itself stories, and it is these stories that are our perceptual and conceptual truths of the world that guide our behaviour. Here, we feature our work that is aimed at helping us to understand the principles by which the human brain encodes the meaning of sensory relationships that were previously useful since the process of perception is, in fact, a manifestation of past experience.
Exploring perception using computation and artificial life.
While all brains are made from the same biological stuff, their diversity in structure is phenomenal. And yet, all animals as diverse as bees and humans evolved to solve the same visual puzzles, and even probably as a consequence see the same illusions. A critical aim of our research is to understand what is common between such divergent systems. Only when we know this answer will we be able to understand the principle by which the brain any brain makes sense of the world.
If such a common principle exists, then it'll be best described at the level of mathematics (computation more generally), because this level of explanation is mute to the actual structure of the system of interest in the same way that mathematical theories of evolution transcend the structure that's evolving.
On this page, we feature our work that is attempting to discover how all networks natural or artificial resolve the inherent uncertainty of sensory information, which is the critical challenge facing any robust sensory system; some of this work involves playing god: evolving artificial life systems within artificial worlds. Answering this question will not only give us deep insights into the nature of perception, and indeed into human nature generally, but will also lead to highly robust artificial machine systems, which currently cannot out-compete the simple bumblebee.
In addition to this basic mathematical research, we are also applying our understanding of biological computation to new explore new ways of thinking in art and music.
Fundamental to the success of Lab of Misfits' research is our engagement with people at multiple levels. The point is to enable others to consider the importance of not being an outside observer of nature, but one defined by interaction with our environment towards fostering a more empathetic and creative view of nature and human nature. Crucial to this is our ability to 'see ourselves see'.
Therefore, in addition to publishing scientific papers, we create physical structures and stage events in venues ranging from galleries and concert halls to schools, and even the side of the street as well as in our own lab in the Science Museum. Our work has also featured on several television and radio programmes. All these activities are highlighted on this page.
We call our public work 'street science', since all of our work is ambitious and truly experimental in that obtaining real data, information and understanding is at the heart of each project. In this way, we aim to leave a trace in the viewer that goes beyond their immediate sensory experience and also to contribute to technical innovation, while simultaneously impacting current understanding of nature and human nature.
Here, we highlight the events, papers, talks, projects, performances and installations that will soon be in the public domain. Once Lab of Misfits has fixed a launch date for a particular projects or event, this will be listed on our Newspage.
Here, we describe projects that are in the development phase. These may include commissioned projects, or ideas for research or public installations that are being developed, but are not yet realised.
Here, we list all our public installations, published papers, public programmes, television and radio appearances for easy and quick reference. The term 'Everything' might be better to describe what's here, as nothing included on this page is considered 'history'.
Introducing the world's first streetlamp using 1,500 compound glass crystal lenses that change with the sun's own path.
Lab of Misfits have successfully piloted a potential new model for scientific research and science communication, with The Experiment - an immersive neuroscience research experience that took place in a Victorian dungeon in Clerkenwell, London on 24th November.
Our Musical Images app enables you to turn any image into sound... and you can upload the results onto our website.More
We have developed a set of tools, that make use of and extend the popular Processing open-source multimedia programming environment. Together they will enable artists without the skills of computer programming to significantly influence the content of their visual performance, while also keeping the programming of new graphics algorithms accessible to those seeking greater creative freedom.
Beau Lotto's, and Lab of Misfits', second and substantial appearance on BBC2's Horizon programme, broadcast in August, 2011.
Corney, C. Haynes, J. Rees, G. Lotto, R.B. (2009)
Paper describes the underlying basis for why we see illusions using a Bayesian ideal observer.
Translating light into sound so that people hear their visual world is a wonderful way to experience the process of the brain actually learning to make sense of the world. As part of Passing Through an exhibition at the James Talyor Gallery in London, Lab of Misfits in collaboration with Stephen Gage of the Bartlett created 'Hearing Colour'.
Clarke, R. Lotto, R.B.(2009)
Visual processing of the bee innately encodes higher-order image statistics when the information is consistent with natural ecology.
Sitting in London's Regents Canal (in Hackney) is a narrow-boat where all its energy is renewable. The owners of this boat commissioned Lab of Misfits to install its first generation Solar Stones, which trickle-charge the boats rechargeable battery system. The images here show the installation process, which was completed in May, 2009.
In the project Blackawton Bees (in collaboration with Head Teach Dave Strudwick and tech Tina Wadwellyn) we again have performed truly novel experiments on bumblebees at a primary school in Devon. Except this time we have completely removed all boundaries: The experiments were not devised by the 'scientist', but by twenty five 8-year-old children.
The Beacon is a 6 metre 'Street Science' installation of solar panels, glass and light erected on Old Street in London. The work is an experimental public structure that considers our dependence on the environment, not only for our survival, but also for who we are, even the colours we see.
Here we provide a set of powerful colour, motion and shape illusions created in-house. Much of our research is centred on understanding how and why we see illusions.
Following the flight of the bumblebee for science and art.
An exhibition that provided a unique perspective on light and colour as part of the 'Dan Flavin: A Retrospective' exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, London, and included Beau Lotto's White Light White Shadows installation.
Interview with Beau at the Hayward Gallery on BBC Radio 4.
BBC television programme about the nature of stress.
Coast is BBC 2's award-winning programme about the UK's physical edge.
Bee cubes at the Science Gallery in Dublin that capture literally the flight of the bumblebee.
Beau Lotto takes part in one of the BBC's most popular Horizon programmes for a decade. It explores how and why we see illusions.
A programme that enables children to become the scientists that they already are.
Do you see the same colours that I see? Working in collaboration with the BBC's Horizon programme, we have launched a series of experiments to answer this question.
This public programme aims to explore perception through live and interactive experiments involving large numbers of subjects.
We regularly invite visitors into our lab during the Lates events, which draw thousands of people to the Science Museum every month.
By making music using binaural recording technology, we explore the process of recording sound not as it exists in air, but as our eardrum actually 'hears' it.
An experiment into human perception in a space designed by Olafur Eliasson.
A 2-D virtual landscape of colour where artificial life agents evolve to 'eat' colour.
An interactive art installation created by Beau Lotto, Sarah Rubidge and Erwan Le Martelot exhibited at the Otter Gallery in Chichester in 2005.
With its wall of 77 speakers, the Soundwall enables people to transform the patterns of light that fall onto their eyes into music.
Music is typically constructed in time. Here we are using stills and movies of constructed colour to create musical forms in time and space.
Making music from colour.More
Provides links to TV and radio programmes that have featured Lab of Misfits' work and/or interviews with Beau Lotto, as well as to selected interviews or profiles in the press, both print and online, and published books.More
This research programme is creating virtual bees, what we call APIANTS, to help explain vision.More
This is the first project in our i,maker programme. The idea is that anyone can come into our space, grab a wrench and build a scooter from scratch. Why? Because it is through the process of making that we make sense of our world and ourselves. The programme will take place in October 2011 and will last for one week. If you'd like to take part, please keep an eye on our News page, as well as our Home page.
To choose is to live (or die). Every second of the day we make a choice or more accurately THINK we are making choices. How and why do we choice what we do?
There's plenty of research to suggest that the visual system is intimately related to the auditory system. In collaboration with Mick Grierson of Goldsmiths, we will be creating experiments that investigate how deep this relationship goes, and whether this potential relationship is consistent across age, sex, race, culture etc.
Beau Lotto is working with the wonderful Anna Starkey on a series of children's books that explore the nature of perception and how we can take ownership of what we see (and don't see). Bee and Me is the first in the series of books for children.
Beau Lotto has been commissioned by Oxford University Press to write a popular science book about how and why we see colour as we do... and why it tells us something fundamental about who we are.
How do we enable large numbers of children (AND their teachers and schools) to become true creators of science without losing the intimacy that is required to transform lives en route? As with all our work, the i,scientist community is a research project that will be attempting to answer this question.
Lab of Misfits has many aims and ambitions, one of which is to be a space (conceptual and physical) where people can become creators of science... through play. We're therefore hoping to create a 'club' whose members will have access to the lab at their own will. But we've really no idea where this will lead... we would like the members to figure that out for us instead.
William Blake is fundamental to our thinking about how we see things and how they can be looked at from a different perspective. To this day his ideas remain contemporary and relevant, making it a pleasure to have been requested to take part in the Ashmolean's exhibition of Blake's works.More
We are running a series of experiments that investigate our perception of generosity.More
Physical interaction is the route via which the brain makes sense of the world and oneself in that world. Making, then, is the deeply intuitive process by which we create what we see, hear, feel and touch. 'Making Chocolate' will be the second of our i'maker projects. The project is being created in collaboration with cocoa bean growers in Ecuador.
Beau Lotto, in collaboration with Dave Strudwick, is developing ambitious plans to build on Lab of Misfits' existing My School programme in order to create a new school called My School for Inspiring Talents (MySFIT) one that aims to engender what is fundamental to well-being (and good science)... playfulness, openness, adaptability and empathy. The plan is to apply those principles of science to education, and in MySFIT specifically for disadvantaged young people.
Innovation requires seeing the world and oneself uniquely, but this is hard to do, especially within institutions. We are therefore creating a number of workshops for the creative industries to apply our understanding of perception to foster innovation in their own fields. These workshops take full advantage of our wonderful lab space deep inside one of the world's leading public institutions: London's Science Museum.
The language of fashion has the potential to transform lives for the positive, since fashion is something we participate in every morning when we open the wardrobe (consciously or otherwise). Beau Lotto, in collaboration with one of the UK's leading fashion designers, Helen Story, aims to 'redefine' the catwalk and what it represents.
Imagine the orchestra, not laid out in front of you on a stage, but as a personified wall of sound measuring 25 metres tall by 40 metres wide. Also imagine listening to that human wall of music, not on the ground in seats but moving around, hearing the same live performance from many different perspectives. vEnsemble (or the Vertical Orchestra) is our dream to transform the composition and performance of music through the science of spatial sound perception.
What is theatre? How does a director direct? Indeed how does anyone make a decision? Living Narratives is a Lab of Misfits installation/experience created in collaboration with the super-energetic and creative Danish theatre Director Sidsel Bech (currently based in Liverpool). Living Narratives involves tens even hundreds of people in a space with two simple tasks: stay in the space and never stop walking.
LumaKey is a unique, hand-held object that translates the light intensity on a piece of paper into sound. With this simple object, it's possible to create musical rhythms from visual patterns, and in doing so experience the visual world in a wholly different way. Like all our 'products', we will be selling the LumaKey to sell an idea... the idea of transforming lives by transforming perception.
One of Beau's best friends is Michele Gauler, who also happens to be a fabulous Berlin-based designer. Together they are exploring the medium of textiles as a language for exploring and communicating the nature of perception. The See Shirts many of which will feature hand-painted images on organic cotton will be sold as part of our line of 'perceptual ware'.
A new sound installation by Lab of Misfits, the Triptych is being created in collaboration with Alex Gabby (film maker), Mike Walker (sound designer) and Larry Goves (composer). The piece explores the relationship between what we see and what we hear, and uses this basic neurological link as the basis for new musical composition and performance.
Lab of Misfits is in the process of creating a new 4-metre tall installation that changes the direction of rotation in the perception of those looking at it. The Windmill is a new large, outdoor installation of wood and steel that can be installed on the grounds of a school; the first one will be at Blackawton School in Devon.
A collaboration between Lab of Misfits and composer Eduardo R. Miranda, performed using a soundwall of 77 speakers.
A piece composed by Larry Goves and presented in three different ways in order to explore music in context.
This programme offers the opportunity to explore perception in relation to the embodied process of making.
A public programme which invites individuals to do perception research in our lab.
Watch a video of Beau Lotto's TED conference talk entitled 'Optical illusions show how we see', July 2009.
Experience the visual world through sound or compose music from the colours of a friend's face.
A unique solar panel paving stone system for harvesting solar energy.
Bees recognise the colour of a surface under different colours of lights. Illumination as a contextual cue to color choice behavior in bumblebees.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA 102:16870-16874.
The timing of cell death in the vision network is coincident with the end of the network's formation. Target-Derived Neurotrophic Factors Regulate the Death of Developing Forebrain Neurons after a Change in their Trophic Requirements.
Journal of Neuroscience 21:3904-3910.
Public Library of Science Computational Biology 3:e180.
This book, by Dale Purves and Beau Lotto, describes an empirical theory for why we see illusions. A second edition was published in 2011.
A chapter entitled 'Using illusions to teach children about the science and art of seeing and conceiving', written by Beau Lotto in collaboration with Sara J. Downham and Dave Strudwick, is included in Creative Encounters, published by the Wellcome Trust in 2008.
The 'Point of perception' was a collaborative project between Madi Boyd, Mark Lythgo and R. Beau Lotto, which aimed to place people consciously at the point of uncertainty, between the known and unknown.
Provides links to TV and radio programmes that have featured Lab of Misfits' work and/or interviews with Beau Lotto, as well as to selected interviews or profiles in the press, both print and online, and published books.