Trippy moving illusion

By Phil Plait | September 28, 2009 11:17 am

Via the ever-awesome Richard Wiseman comes this very trippy and distressing illusion [WARNING (seriously): if you are prone to motion sickness or visually-induced epilepsy, don’t got there. You will regret it!]

I tried it, and it screwed up my eyesight for about a minute… though it was a pretty fun minute. And I have to say that IT WAS BETTER THAN CATS. I WILL SEE IT AGAIN AND AGAIN.


Comments (74)

  1. Pieter Kok

    That is very cool indeed. I never managed to get high on shrooms, but from what I heard it is a lot like this. I actually could tell pretty precisely when the effect kicked in.

  2. Doc


  3. Gary Ansorge

    1. Pieter Kok

    It somewhat reminds me of my days of wine and acid. I will note, the effect is very transient, unlike the entheogens. Also, this particular effect is more reminiscent of ‘shrooms than Least Significant Digit(LOL). The imagery of that latter entheogen tends to be MUCH more complex,(faces, forests, aliens, yada,yada,,,)

    Fascinating what we’ve developed in our ability to create illusions.

    Gary 7

  4. Darn, access denied…

    Although, I do find it amusing at how EASY it is to totally trick the human brain. Con men and charlatans (and defense lawyers?) seem to take advantage of that fact all the time, yet people still keep falling for it.

  5. Ed

    The effect lasts only about 5 seconds for me. I guess my visual cortex is just too stable. :)

  6. Simon

    As a reformed cat-hater, it is my considered opinion that everyone, Phil included, is simply the right cat away from a cat-person.

    Also, it was sort of cool, although it only lasted about 10s for me. :)

  7. RickK

    Off topic – I’m having trouble getting to the Bad Astronomy home page. I keep getting the front page from Sept. 21, with the Armadillo article at the top. I can’t seem to get the current BA articles. The only way I could get to this one was through the Discover Magazine home page.

    I’ve cleared out any stored history in IE. Is anyone else having this problem?

  8. Crap I’m going to be nauseated for the rest of the day.

  9. That was pretty cool. Slightly disorienting, but way cool. Perhaps something that Mr. Mistofeles would use on his humans.

    Edit to add: I have a woozy headache, now. Be ye warned.

  10. Is anyone else amused at the heavy advertising from Templeton Press on this site?

  11. From now on I don’t need any texture on my walls, I just go and look at that freaky stuff, lol. Thanks for sharing. Anna.

  12. Thanny

    Pretty neat. The full effect only lasted about five seconds for me, and the last subtle trace of it disappeared after about 15 seconds.

  13. Swim

    For those who have never done drugs, this certainly gives one a small taste of what one is missing.

  14. Will

    Wow, that actually made me a little bit sick to my stomach. Never seen a simple black/white moving pattern illusion with that powerful an effect. Visual effects were pretty cool too, random spots in my field of view grew and shrank.

  15. Were there red dots shooting out of the center or was that an artifact of the illusion?

    For anyone who plays Guitar Hero or Rock Band, the visual sliding effect when you look away is familiar :)

  16. @Carey

    For anyone who plays Guitar Hero or Rock Band, the visual sliding effect when you look away is familiar

    A coworker mentioned the same thing.

  17. George F.

    Since it didn’t do a thing for me, I still place my cats at the top.

  18. TheBlackCat

    Very cool. It didn’t give me a migraine, which is good because a lot of those things do.

  19. PG

    I was also going to say that I get a similar effect from playing Guitar Hero…

  20. Gary Ansorge

    20. PG

    I get somewhat the same effect from drumming for long periods of time. It lasts about 20 minutes and I have come to believe it is merely an associative stimulus effect(ie, flashback).

    GAry 7

  21. Dan I.

    Oh this is so going on facebook…

  22. gopher65

    Veeerrry woozy now. Uggg.

    The effect only lasted for between 5 and 8 seconds each time I tried (longest the first time, with decreasing duration thereafter) before my brain re-adjusted. I wonder if that means that I’m overly susceptible to perception warping? After all, the faster you adjust, the shorter the time it takes to fool you.

    Regardless it was an interesting effect:).

  23. Alan in the US

    I have a tendency to get motion sick and stay off of amusement rides, so I was a bit reluctant to try it at first. Oddly, the effect was very minor and only lasted a couple of seconds for me. Watching for an extended period got annoying, but didn’t result in a larger or longer effect.

    Clear skies, Alan

  24. Navneeth

    What? I don’t get it. I stared at the centre for 20 seconds, maybe even more, but after that when I looked at the walls and ceiling, I saw some sort lines/”wrinkles,” that’s all. And it didn’t last for more than a couple of seconds.

  25. @Navneeth

    The warping/wrinkling of your vision is the illusion. And, yeah, the effect doesn’t last long.

  26. Yojimbo

    Eeeeew! Isn’t that illegal?

  27. Very, very LSD-like… I mean, from what I’ve *heard* anyway. 😉

  28. Will M.

    The site has a nice planetarium which shows the night sky with the constellations, their locations and identities when you mouse over them. Pretty nifty.

  29. OMNI magazine had a version of this in the issue with Jerry Andrus back in 1981 or so. You had to cut out the image and put it on a record player. It was a triple-spiral. They also had a cool photo of clouds that you could use to test the effect. I found that I could summon up the effect at will hours later, which was pretty neat. OMNI was a great magazine back in the early-to-mid 1980’s, before it became all woo.

  30. It would be great to make that a screen saver…

  31. I just got back from teh hospital. I guess I didn’t know that I had photo sensitive epilepsy….

    KIDDING!!!!! But I could see how this would mess somebody up.

  32. doofus

    Only lasted for a few seconds, but, I looked at a picture of the lunar surface as my “target”.
    That was kind of fun.

  33. alfaniner

    Try preparing by opening up a full-size picture in another window (say, of the Sun). When you are getting the full effect, quickly switch to that pic. Cooooolll!

  34. Shoeshine Boy


    The first hit is always free. 😉

  35. BTW, I have a similar illusion that I got from the old “OMNI” magazine a couple of decades ago. Instead of diamonds moving in and out simultaneously, it had helixes (helices?). That one you were supposed to photocopy and place on your turntable at 33 1/3 RPM (anyone under 40 understand what I just said?). Similar effect except it was swirley instead of pulsing.

    – Jack

  36. Renacier

    Is this thing available as a screensaver?

  37. Apo

    I’ve loved that illusion since I first saw one like it on Bill Nye the Science Guy. But how and why does it WORK?

  38. dre

    I used to get this effect the productive way – when I was a kid down south, out in the country… no, I didn’t collect fungus from cow pastures. I just mowed our big lot out in the middle of nowhere with a Snapper riding mower. Since I was always looking a few feet ahead of the mower at whatever I was approaching, and it was generally a monotonous texture (brownish, dying grass), and the mower was always vibrating, the instant I stopped and killed that old Briggs & Stratton engine, everything started crawling away from me, slowly and incessantly. Sometimes I might be mowing for half an hour or more at a stretch. Plenty of time, I reckon, to train yer brain. The illusion would persist for ten minutes or so.

    It was an intense sensation and directly analogous to this illusion.

  39. My reaction was “Wow, cool. I hope it stops.”
    There’s one LSD effect that’s similar (staring at intricate patterns can result in apparent movement) but the drug has so much more to offer…some of which isn’t all that much fun, like losing the sense of your body’s physical boundaries. Also, you can throw up your own soul.

  40. Gary Ansorge

    41. feralboy12

    “like losing the sense of your body’s physical boundaries”

    Ah, the old depersonalization routine. Heard of it. Never experienced it.

    “Also, you can throw up your own soul.”

    Hmmm,,,are you sure you’re not referring to mescaline? That stuff is kinda barffy. Too many alkaloids.

    Gary 7

  41. Nadia
  42. Make the spiders go away.

  43. Owen

    Oh, yes! This makes work a whole lot more interesting… my co-workers never looked so good.

  44. ethanol

    I would be interested in the correlation between those of us who saw a more extended and severe visual effect and those of us who have at some point done hallucinogens. In my experience, having done a drug will make you more sensitive and perceptive to the effects of that drug in subsequent experiences (tolerance aside). It would not surprise me it also did so for similar visual effects from a non-elicit source. Also, did anyone else see orange lightning bolts shooting outward while looking at the pattern?

  45. Jack Mitcham

    I must be prone to motion sickness, because I’m actually not feeling very well right now, after staring at it twice.

  46. This not only gave me the effect of ‘breathing walls’ (I have this huge medieval tapestry above my desk that helped accentuate this), but I even got that detached effect you get with hallucinogenics… although only lasting for maybe half a minute at the most rather than half a day.

  47. Brian

    I stared at the image for at least 20 seconds, and nothing looked any different when I looked away. I wonder if it’s because I had LASIK last week?

  48. J. D. Mack

    Interestingly, Micky Dolenz (of The Monkees) has a similar illusion on his website which dates back about 10 years. I don’t know who originated it.

    (Click on “Wow”)

    J. D.

  49. Alright, who melted my keyboard?

  50. Crudely Wrott

    Thanks, Phil. That was wicked nostalgic.

    Now I think I’ll go look again . . . while keeping that special handful of brain cells that are buried deep in my brain stem functioning normally. It’s an old trick that’s always seen me through times of altered synaptic syncopation.

    Another interesting illusion is tactile, rather than visual. It works thusly:
    1-Fill three glasses with water; one cold, one lukewarm, one hot.
    2-Put a finger on one hand into the hot, one on the other hand into the cold.
    3-Wait thirty seconds.
    4-Put both fingers simultaneously into the lukewarm.
    5-What is the temperature of the lukewarm water?

  51. Kernan

    Love the optical illusion, but the little 2001 vignette on his bizarre “television” option is awesome.

  52. Bunkie

    That was cool. I love rides and never get sick on most of them – except the merry-go-round which, is just like having vertigo and this optical gives me that same feeling. queazy now. ohhhh…

  53. Sweet. I liked the part where the screen looked like jell-o. I sent the link to all my contacts (with the warning, of course).

  54. Scott

    Look in a mirror after doing this. Awesome

  55. Paul M.

    Like Londo Mollari… I saw nothing :(

  56. WOoOooOoooo squibbly! That’s so cool!

    Cheers Phil!

  57. J.D. Mack @ #51, the Mickey Dolenz version looks a lot like the OMNI magazine one mentioned in comments 30 and 37.

  58. Elwoodius


  59. Chris

    kinda makes my eyes water.

  60. Corneel

    I did that illusion before, but I was told to look at my hands afterwards. That gives a rather creepy effect, because it looks like your skin is crawling off your hands.

    I bet you wanna try it again now 😉

  61. Ginger Yellow

    I just like staring at the moving pattern, never mind the after-effect.

  62. T_U_T

    classic “overload neurons in visual cortex till complete exhaustion, and then watch them screwing up all processing” type of illusion.

  63. Kelsey

    It’s more like weak mushrooms than LSD.

  64. Erin F.

    Amen to the Rock Band/Guitar Hero effect. I play Rock Band for 20 minutes, and things are crawling up the walls for 5 minutes after I stop. It actually gets me a little queasy after awhile.

    This one just made my cube walls “breath” for about 10 seconds. Good times. Who needs drugs? :)

  65. michel

    this makes me curious… how can this visual effect result in a similar experience to taking magic mushrooms or lsd? (even if the effect is shorter) if i were a neuroscientist, i would see this as an opportunity to learn about how the brain functions.

  66. J. D. Mack

    Another way to achieve a similar effect is to read a scrolling LED sign for a long time, such as one with news headlines or stock market prices.

  67. I have a program named optical.exe from years ago that does pretty much the same illusion, pretty much a digital version of the spiral Harold and Jack mentiond. But it doesn’t run on XP 64, so I’m glad to have found a new version.

    I may be mistaken, but I thought this illusion occured in our eyes before the nerves ever sent the signal to the visual cortex (there’s a lot of pre-processing that take place).

  68. Scott Smith

    Holy smokes. I’ve got a couple of stuffed bears and i just watched one of em’s legs grow and shrink.. hahaha

  69. Buzz Parsec

    Uh oh…. I just happened to be listening to the Airplane on my ipod when I clicked here….

    The Tehune Airwalk was trippy enough IRL… The trees and walk in the picture on this month’s calendar was bouncing around like a hurricane.

  70. drewski

    At first I was all like WTF? Phil crazy! Then I realised I only have one contact lense in. When I closed one eye and just looked at it with just the eye that has a lense, I got the effect when I looked away.

  71. tiggerbone

    Darn you, Phil! I just distracted the entirety of my co-workers at Fermilab with this. It is on your head if we spread this throughout the community. 😉


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