“No sense does anything independently and listing 33 of them may be counterproductive” – Laurence Harris

Professor_Laurence_HarrisWhat is the most interesting paper you came across recently? Why?

Dokka K, Kenyon R V., Keshner E A., Kording KP. 2010. Self versus environment motion in postural control. PLoS Computational Biology, 6. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000680.

This paper applies sophisticated multisensory analysis techniques to address a fundamental problem: namely, how one can tell the difference between sensory information generated by our own movement and sensory information telling us that the external world is changing. It brings in our internal representation of the state of our body and, as such, provides a template for a model of how all sensory information is processed.


What’s your preferred sensory modality? And why?


Vestibular. Or more generally, proprioception. Because it is the reference to which all other sensory modalities (and cognitive processes) are referred.

If “vestibular” is too large a collection of senses, then I would choose the “direction of gravity” part of the otolith division while acknowledging that by itself it is almost useless (although I suppose that doesn’t distinguish it from any other sensory information).


How did you begin to be interested in perception?


When I wrote an essay on the Human Brain for my English project in school.

Or perhaps when I read John Eccles’ book “The neurophysiological basic of the mind: The principles of neurophysiology(1953) around the same time and got to wondering about his little cloud.


Among your recent papers which is your favorite and why?

D’Amour S, Pritchett LM, Harris LR (2015) “Bodily illusions disrupt tactile sensations” Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 41(1): 42-49

Because we show how referencing stimuli to our internal representation of the body is critical. Even tactile detection thresholds are dependent on having a reliable estimate of the state of the body.


Whose work had the biggest influence on your life?

Hermann von Helmholtz (unconscious inference and all that)


If you could collaborate with any researcher you liked, who would it be?

It would depend on the day, of course, but Patrick Haggard’s work appeals with its breadth and imagination.

Or, if we are in fantasyland, Hermann von Helmholtz


Could you describe one mundane detail of your research day?

Anything to do with writing grants


What is your most dangerous idea?

That no sense does anything independently and listing 33 of them may be counterproductive.


What would you like to see happening in the field in the next five years?

Less concern with sensory phenomena and more about our perception of the world.


What does open research mean to you?

Freely accessible databases?


How has your research on perception changed your relation to art?

I see how artists use their tricks. And delight when they know that.


Any artist you would like to work with?

David Hockney or George Lucas (Industrial Light and Magic)

Or, in fantasy, Leonardo


How does your work connect to real life applications?

How can any sensory work not? Whenever anyone moves or is aware of themselves or their environment, whenever someone drives a car or a bicycle, whenever anyone gets sick and cannot move or see or hear or balance as well as normal, whenever anyone is awake, my work connects.


Any pleasant recent sensory experience you’d like to share?

Sex is always nice


Any unpleasant recent sensory experience you’d like to share?

Definitely would be chemical



Leave a Reply