Justin Li


Realizations from Optical Illusions

2007-10-05

That's a mouthful. We were doing some sensory (mostly optical) illusions today in cognitive psych, and while there were a number which were new to me, a bunch of them were pretty familiar ones. I thought back to my childhood when I bought several optical illusion books, and came to a realization:

I enjoy being tricked by my brain.

First, let me give you these two lesser known (but really good) optical illusions:

The Spinning Ballerina Illusion
The Face Mask Illusion

The second one in particular shows how our brain is so used to seeing faces, that we can't help but believe the face pops up, even when we know it's the back of a mask. Of course, we all know that our senses can't be trusted entirely. Not only our sight, but also our sense of touch (poke yourself with two toothpicks about a quarter inch apart; you could tell the difference with your fingers but not your back). Our brain is trying to make sense of a lot of information at the same time, and takes some short cuts in doing so, but in doing that some very specific situations results in our brain telling us the wrong thing.

You can argue that there are other areas in life where our brain makes mistakes. One area I thought of are jokes, especially puns. Puns work by defying our common expectations, which may be cultural or habitual in origin, but this doesn't show up in the grammatical structure of the sentence itself. Here are a few puns, although I must warn you that I take Edgar Allan Poe's quotation ("The goodness of the true pun is in the direct ratio of its intolerability") to heart.

Of course, my love for both of these things doesn't really indicate that I like being tricked by my brain, but that I like finding how the brain works.

Some other area which this applies to came into my mind moments before, but now it's gone. Isn't that fascinating?

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