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Pictures of Optical Illusions and What They Say About You
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optical illusions

Summary: A few pictures of optical illusions or tricky images and word sequences that expose the way the brain thinks.

For over a century, psychologists have delighted in figuring out how the mind works by noting how it fails. We learn about everyday psychology by studying abnormal psychology. Brain damaged people demonstrate how those damaged areas of the brain should work when they are healthy.


In the same manner, optical illusions, and illusions of every sort, show us how the brain processes information, how it uses shortcuts and rules of thumb. Of course, magicians have long known how to trick the eye. Psychologists have been able to pinpoint when and where our focus cheats.


This clever gif demonstrates the way we translate different images to refer to the same thing, this man, despite that one is a real life video, the other a simplistic stick figure.

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Try this out: read aloud the text within the triangle:


Did you say, “A bird in the bush”? The words nevertheless say “a bird in the the bush.” When the brain gives itself rules for reading words, it tends to take shortcuts and doesn’t even see certain errors. We so often see what we expect, or see in terms of what we think something should mean, rather than what is literally there, that those attempting to proofread their own homework are frustrated when their professor’s discover glaring errors they somehow overlooked.

Let’s try another game.


What word to you read here? No doubt by now you are alert to our attempt to trick you, and perhaps you guessed it. This is an ambigram, a picture that contains two images: the word “good” in black and the word “evil” in white. Take it philosophically: good and evil, as opposites, depend on each other for their existence. Note also that whatever you noticed first, the “good” or the “evil” depended on you not seeing the other one at the same time. To see this effect in action again, consider the next picture:


This second picture also is an ambigram using ambiguity in letters to make two words. Can you see that it says both “optical” and “illusion”? If we consider this process philosophically, that the letters we use to make a word can mean two things at once, consider how our speech can also mean two things, many things at once. In the Freudian sense, we hide our meanings right out in the open, we cover our meanings with words that express them without making them visible.


Do you see the use of ambiguity in this one? The reflection of Teach is able to render the word “Learn.” Using freedom in what letters we use, we can make a letter that looks like a c right side up, and an r upside down.


This final ambigram also relies on negative space to express two concepts usually set in opposition: me and you.

Try this eye test next. Before we explain it, go through the capital letters and count how many f’s you can find.


How many did you count? There are 6. If you counted less than six, go back and look closer. Did you miss the f’s in the “of”s? Why? Because your mind was filtering for “f” sounds, and the ofs sound like “ov.” In the same way, whenever we look for anything in the world, we use a filter system. Our ability to find what we want is only as good as our filter system. What if we are looking for the perfect lover or friend but have wrongly filtered out who could qualify?


This is the classic rotating woman. Give her a gander. Which way is she rotating? If you think she is rotating clockwise, your right part of the brain made that decision. If you think she is rotating anticlockwise your left part of the brain is working. If you doubt that anybody could see it other than the way you just saw it, try an experiment. Try looking at her again and seeing her go the other way. Some people can imagine both at the same time.

You may have run across the following text before. If not, give it a try now.

Olny srmat poelpe can raed tihs.

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was

rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid,

aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer

in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny

iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be

inthe rgh it pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and

you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn

mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, butthe wrod as a

wlohe. Amzanig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

if you can raed tihs psas it on !!

Despite the claim that only smart people can read this, most literate people can read it, due to how the brain processes information. We look for wholes and form them into meaningful units. This information processing is great for simplifying the complex world, but it does lead us to not seeing what is really there, and to making meaning out of data that could in fact be meaningless.

These few optical illusions and brain teasers give insight into how the brain operates as a computational device, not seeing what is there, but what could meaningfully be there. Such shortcuts and abbreviations of the cognitive process speed up our awareness of our environment, but expose us also to making mistakes.



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