Don’t Believe Your Eyes: Three Illusions That Will Melt Your Brain

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Oct. 21 2013 8:00 AM

Three Illusions That Will Destroy Your Brain

Thanks to my evil twin Richard Wiseman (a UK psychologist who specializes in studying the ways we perceive things around us, and how easily we can be fooled), I saw this masterful illusion video that will keep you guessing on what’s real and what isn’t. It’s only two minutes long, so give it a gander:

Cool, eh? The reason you got fooled, at least twice, is that we get confused when our three-dimensional world is translated into two dimensions. We perceive distance for nearby objects using binocular vision, which depends on the angles between our eyes and the objects. If you create a picture of an object that is carefully distorted to match those changing angles, you can fool the brain into thinking it’s seeing a real object when in fact it’s a flat representation.

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We’re actually very good at taking subtle cues and turning them into three-dimensional interpretations. However, because of that very sensitivity, it’s easy to throw a monkey in the wrench, messing up our perception.

Still don’t believe me? Then watch this, and if it doesn’t melt your brain, I can no longer help you.

Our brains are very, very easy to fool. I’ll note that the way we see color is very easy to trick, too. I wrote an article about a fantastic, astonishing color illusion back in 2009, and it spurred a lot of arguments in the comments, even when I showed clearly how it works. Amazing.

And because why not, here’s the picture (the colors get a bit squished in the middle, so you can see the original here at the bottom of the page if you'd like). Tell me, do you see a blue-armed spiral, and a green one?

blue green spiral illusion
Everything is not as it seems.

Drawing by Akiyoshi Kitaoka, used by permission

<evil chuckle>

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!