An optical illusion is defined as “something that deceives the eye by appearing to be other than it is”. But what is actually going on when we’re looking at one of these puzzling images?
This is a question scientists, neuroscientists and psychologists have worked to answer over the centuries. Through their research, we have learned a great deal about the human brain.
Take The Kanizsa Triangle, for instance. How many triangles do you see? One? Two? Several?
Actually, there are none.
Psychologists have used this visual illusion to show the law of closure—the concept that most humans “fill in the gaps” to make one big picture out of the pieces of information that we’ve been given.
When we have the experience of seeing something that does not actually exist, it’s not because our brains are moving too slow, but actually that they’re working too fast. Our minds are so accustomed to interpreting our what the eyes send it, that it starts to make assumptions based off of memory.
So how about this next one… What do you see in this next graphic?
A duck? A rabbit?
Okay, now in the next image, try to see one as a duck and one as a rabbit—at the same time!
Can’t do it? Our brains want to decide between one or the other. Unless you create a narrative.. So, say, “The duck is eating the rabbit.” Now try it…
Once again, our brains are filing these images for us—until we give it a greater context to separate the information.
More proof of our brains automatic “filing system”: people are more likely to see a rabbit around Easter time!
Many illusions cause us to see what is not there—but some of them cause us to overlook what is there.
Take a look at this brick wall…
And see if you can find the cigar?
Of course, once we spot the hidden item, it can be hard to ever “unsee” it!
While it is true that we have uncovered a great deal of information from illusions, there are still many mysteries revolving around the brain-sight connection.
One such mystery recently made headlines, involving even Kim Kardashian and Ellen Degeneres in the controversy.
What color is this dress?
Maybe you thought the answer was obvious? Turns out, half of people would see this dress as gold and white, while others argue it is blue and black.
How could this be? Well, scientists aren’t sure.
Some say that higher activity in the brain renders an inaccurate perception of these colors (figure that out?). Other say that based on your screen angle, or the lighting of a picture, colors appear differently. Such as in this illusion below, which shows the same color of blocks appearing to be different:
(Don’t believe us? Cover the middle line with your finger)
But that doesn’t explain why two individuals staring at the same picture, in the same lighting, at the same angle, can pronounce it entirely different shades!
The next illusion, named Cafe Wall after a literal British restaurant, has been baffling minds since the 1920s…
See how crooked these lines are?
Well, they are actually parallel.
Confused? So are the scientists…
Neurons interacting with the colors to create “border locking”? That’s one theory. The problem is, if you look up “border locking”, this very cafe-wall phenomena will be its main explanation.
There is really no end to the research conducted by scientists on optical illusions. But whether you’re seeking to unlock the secrets of our mind, or whether you’re simply looking for an entertaining activity; whether you see bunnies or ducks, whether you see blue or gold dresses…. we can all agree that our vision and brains are amazing and complex!