Oops, optical illusions.
Nothing is ever as it seems; even this article.
I think we can all agree that how we perceive a thing might be more important than the thing itself. And on that bold claim, let’s look at perception.
Now, perception is a murky topic. I’d dare say it’s one of the biggest influences on our experience in this reality, if not the biggest.
Easily put, it’s the way we collect, understand and interpret information. And this is via our different senses — smell, touch, feeling, hearing. Am I missing one more?
Ah yes, seeing.
Today, I present optical illusions.
It’s in the optics
“The brain didn't actually evolve to see the world the way it is. The brain has evolved to see the world it is useful to see.” - Dr. Beau Lotto
The way the brain perceives vision is interesting, and that’s putting it mildly. This process is dependent on light waves hitting our eyes, as we might already know. Yet there are other factors we don’t consider often.
Because is this a vase or two surly men looking at one another? (Side note: Phew! That took me almost 20 minutes to sketch identical sides).
How about if the orange ball in B is bigger than A? Or are they actually the same size? (Hint: they are. I should know. Designed ‘em myself).
How do optical illusions work?
Remember how we spoke about the frontal cortex recently? Well, the posterior (or “back” of the) brain is responsible for vision, or at least is involved in that pathway. And so it goes without saying that maybe there’s something wrong with that part of the brain.
But what if that’s not the case? Maybe it’s prior, as the lightwaves hit the eyes, travelling down to the retina. Or maybe the problem’s as we move up the visual pathway, like the seat of judgement being fooled, further ahead?
It seems things are not as straightforward as we’d hope.
You see, around 30 areas within the brain are involved in vision alone.
But this is what we know for sure — these complicated processes take a while. Nanoseconds, yes. But a while nonetheless. Because if you’re about to be hit by a cricket game ball (which by the way, 0/10 do not recommend), your visual system had better be even faster than light.
“It’s really important to understand we’re not seeing reality.” - Patrick Cavanaugh
And so the brain tells us…stories. Which in turn becomes our reality. Because we’re very uncomfortable with uncertainty.
There are various factors responsible for what we see. Context, motivation, and even sleep patterns have been proposed.
“When confronted with ambiguity, our brains fill in the ambiguity using whatever we’re most familiar with. People assume what they see more of.” - Prof. Pascal Wallisch
The scoreboard, ladies and gentlemen…
Adaptation - 1
Being Eaten by Wolves - 0
Notice how your brain is quick to change its mind over and over and over again.
“Context is meaning.” - Ojuolape Kuti
This makes me wonder what else in our lives we think we know/see. And the haunting realisation that perhaps, nothing is ever as it seems.
**cue ominous music
I didn’t want to end on a paranoid note. Because what else is life if not the stories we tell ourselves? And while it’s true that we can’t always believe what we perceive, the bigger call would be to continually seek out knowledge. Even when it differs from what we know. Especially when it differs from what we know. And to approach it with questions. Simply put, stay curious.
P. S., this dress was totally blue and black. But that’s a whole separate topic.
Here’s last week’s letter on why we only seem to focus on the Negative in Our Negative Bias. It’s not us, it’s totally “them”.