David Marr

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David Courtnay Marr (19 January 1945 – 17 November 1980) was a British neuroscientist and psychologist, known for integrating results from psychology, artificial intelligence, and neurophysiology into new models of visual processing.


  • To understand the relationship between behavior and brain one has to begin by defining the function, or computational goal, of a complete behavior. Only then can a neuroscientist determine how the brain achieves that goal.
    • In: Paul W. Glimcher (2004). Decisions, Uncertainty, and the Brain.

Representation and recognition of the spatial organization of three-dimensional shapes, 1978[edit]

Marr, David, and Herbert Keith Nishihara. "Representation and recognition of the spatial organization of three-dimensional shapes." Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 200.1140 (1978): 269-294.

  • Vision is a process that produces from images of the external world a description that is useful to the viewer and not cluttered with irrelevant information.
    • as cited in Steven Yantis (2001) Visual Perception: Essential Readings, p. 117.
  • A representation is a formal system for making explicit certain entities or types of information, together with a specification of how the system does this. And I shall call the result of using a representation to describe a given entity a description of the entity in that representation.
  • The critical act in formulating computational theories turns out to be the discovery of valid constraints on the way the world is structured -- constraints that provide sufficient information to allow the processing to succeed.
  • The primitives of a representation are the most elementary units of shape information available in a representation.
    • p. 274

Vision, 1982[edit]

  • Vision is the process of discovering from images what is present in the world, and where it is.
    • p. 3, cited in: M. R. Bennett, ‎P. M. S. Hacker (2012). History of Cognitive Neuroscience.
  • The abstract properties of this mapping are defined precisely, and its appropriateness and adequacy for the task at hand are demonstrated.
    • p, 24
  • In order to understand bird flight, we have to understand aerodynamics; only then does the structure of feathers and the different shapes of bird's wings make sense.
    • p. 27
  • Vision is a process that produces from images of the external world a description that is useful to the viewer and not cluttered with irrelevant information.
    • p. 31
  • [If] we can experimentally isolate a process and show that it can still work well, then it cannot require complex interaction with other parts of vision and can therefore be understood relatively well on its own.

Quotes about David Marr[edit]

  • When David Marr at MIT moved into computer vision, he generated a lot of excitement, but he hit up against the problem of knowledge representation; he had no good representations for knowledge in his vision systems.
    • Marvin Minsky in: David G. Stork (1998). HAL's Legacy: 2001's Computer As Dream and Reality. p. 16
  • Evolutionary psychology was the organizing framework—the source of “explanatory adequacy” or a “theory of the computation”—that the science of psychology had been missing. Like vision and language, our emotions and cognitive faculties are complex, useful, and nonrandomly organized, which means that they must be a product of the only physical process capable of generating complex, useful, nonrandom organization, namely, natural selection. An appeal to evolution was already implicit in the metatheoretical directives of Marr and Chomsky, with their appeal to the function of a mental faculty, and evolutionary psychology simply shows how to apply that logic to the rest of the mind.
    • Steven Pinker, "Foreword" in: Buss, David M., ed. The handbook of evolutionary psychology. John Wiley & Sons, 2005. p. xiv
  • I am not sure that Marr would agree, but I am tempted to add learning as the very top level of understanding, above the computational level. [...] Only then may we be able to build intelligent machines that could learn to see—and think—without the need to be programmed to do it.

External links[edit]

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