The not-so-uncanny valley

There’s a theory about human perception of almost-human figures that goes this this: if the representations are crude, or clearly just symbolic, we have no problem with that. Think about cartoons like Scooby doo. We often find these representations, which one would never confuse for actual human beings, cute.

On the other hand, as you get closer and closer to a representing an acutall human being, but before your picture looks “real”, you enter the “uncanny vally”. In this range, images of humans looks suprisingly lifelike, but we can tell they are fake, or not-quite-human. This is deeply disturbing to us. Zombies fall into this category. Our brains can tell right away that something’s not quite right, and this bothers us.

Look one more time at the first image in this post. I have my own theory about near-human looking art. I beleive that when we look at half-human creatures like those in Jenny Bird Alcantara’s “Daughter of Icarus”, we keep trying to make the images human. Our brains look for ways that it could be a human being, just like we try to see faces everywhere. We do a mental inventory of human parts: legs, torso, arms. But wait! What kind of feet are those? And what’s with the giant eye? We want to see these images as human, but we can’t. And disturbs and intrigues us, since we spend a good part of our cognitive time trying to fit things in categories. When that doesn’t work, we don’t give up easily. They end result can be creepy and compelling.

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2 Responses to “The not-so-uncanny valley”

  1. Untooned roundup | James Maybe Says:

    [...] a very rough transition into the world of 3D realism. Part of the problem may be related to the uncanny valley; we can only accept something as cute so long as it doesn’t look too human. Cross some invisible [...]

  2. Iris Says:

    Hi there,
    I just found this post where you mention Jennybird Alcantara and I thought that perhaps you’d like to blog about the latest show she’s doing with us over at Strychnin Gallery in Berlin. If you like, I can send you information and some images. She’s created 8 dolls especially for this exhibition, which is more than has ever been shown by her in a single show. The press release for the exhibition can be found here – http://www.strychnin.com/_press/_release/PR_Red_Thread_E.pdf – feel free to take a look and get in touch with me!

    Cheers and thanks!

    Iris.

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