As amazing and versatile our brains are, they’re not perfect. Although our brains interpret objects generally well, there are a few moments where it makes a false interpretation. A prime example of our brains making mistakes is through the use of optical illusions.
What is an optical illusion?
An optical illusion is a series of colors, lights, and patterns meticulously placed in a way to deceive our brains. For instance, let’s say there is an image of a stagnant bird. If the image uses the right colors and patterns, our brains may interpret the bird as moving, even though the bird is sitting still. The brain creates a perception (“the interpretation of what we take in through our eyes“) that is different from the true image.
Think your brain is perfect? I’m going to place you in a scenario for each of the following images.
Try to solve each case- don’t be surprised if your brain fools you!
Scenario 1: You are an undercover cop. There have been news reports of a murderous saxophone player on the loose. One night, you notice a person lurking in the dark. At first, you believe it’s an innocent woman. After examining the person a bit more, you realize that it may also be the saxophone player! Do you charge at the person and arrest him/her?
Scenario 2: You are saving money for the new iPhone, which is going to be released in the coming weeks. However, you only saved up $51. Luckily, a friend tells you that he will give you $10 for every black dot you locate. How many black dots can you count?
Plot twist: All of the dots are white!
Scenario 3: After a long day at school, you come home to find your pet rabbit missing from its cage! You look all over town and after countless hours of searching, you finally find it sitting next to the pond. Wait a second… is that animal your pet rabbit, or is it a duck?
Scenario 4: You are the general of an elite army. After thousands of people applied to join your forces, you can’t decide between Larry, Henry and David. As a result, you decide to pick whichever troop is the tallest. Which troop do you pick?
Plot Twist #2: They’re all the same height!
Scenario 5: A giant temple is being built in the city of Rome. As manager of the project, you come to see the building’s progress. You wish to talk to the people on top of the building. However, you can’t decide: Who do you talk to?
Evidently, our brains can have trouble interpreting objects in their unadulterated, true form. Most likely, you had a difficult time deciphering the cases shown above.
The image shown in Scenario 2 is called a scintillating grid illusion, which was discovered by E. Lingelbach in 1994 and was a modification of the Hermann Grid illusion. The reason why our brains interpret the white dots being black is explained by a theory called lateral inhibition, or “the capacity of an excited neuron to reduce the activity of its neighbors“. Essentially, the black squares trick our brains into thinking the white dots aren’t white.
Scenarios 4 & 5 cleverly use different perspectives, dimensions and depths to create a false interpretation of the image. In scenario 4, the room appears to be at an angle. Although all the troops are the same size, the artist positioned them in a way that makes it seem the one closest to the left is the shortest.
In scenario 5, the artist uses the environment to create an illusion of height (ex: the sky and the ground). The railings of the building can be interpreted as both facing towards and away from you. Combined with the positioning of the people, the image can be interpreted in two ways and as a result, there is no definitive answer.
In Scenarios 1 & 3, the artists ingeniously illustrate two beings into one. Similar to Scenario 5, there isn’t a correct answer to the illusion. Some will believe the image displays a woman/duck, while others will believe it is a saxophone player/ rabbit.
Here’s one last optical illusion (try to interpret the real image using the knowledge above):
Although it may seem like the circles are rotating, they’re actually still.
Ultimately, our brains can be fooled with the precise combination of colors, perspectives, depth, height, dimensions, etc. The next time you look at an apple, think to yourself: Is this apple actually red?