Tag: Richard Wiseman

This video illusion will destroy your brain

By Phil Plait | August 17, 2011 6:00 am

I love love love optical illusions, and it’s been a while since I posted one. So here’s one of the greatest and most brain-eatingly pernicious illusions of them all… and this time, via my friend Richard Wiseman’s blog, it’s brought to life!

Now, if you’re like me, your first thought is "Baloney!" except perhaps with stronger language.

However, I promise you, this is real. It’s not a trick, it’s not Photoshop, nothing like that*. It’s an honest to goodness optical illusion completely inside your head. I can prove it, and you can prove it for yourself.

I took a screen grab from the video:

I then opened it in Photoshop and created two squares. I filled the first one with the color sampled from the "dark" square in the screengrab, the one next to the woman’s right hand. I then did the same thing using the color sampled from the "light" square just to the right of the cylinder. Here is the result:

How flipping awesome is that? And you don’t have to trust me: go do it yourself. Make a screen grab, or use a template the video maker put together. Heck, just grab the screengrab I already made and look for yourself!

You may note the two squares above aren’t exactly the same color; getting a screen grab and compressing the file and all that mucked with the coloring a bit. But clearly, those two squares are very close in shade and color, nowhere near as different as your brain thinks they are in the checkerboard. This classic illusion is due to the way you interpret color (or shading): it’s not done independently; your brain is always comparing things. In one case, the square is surrounded by lighter squares which make it look darker, and in the other case it’s surrounded by darker squares, making it look lighter. The shadow going across the squares messes with your perception as well, amplifying the effect.

These kinds of illusions are maddening and overwhelming that I expect that despite my clear demo and urging of people to try this for themselves, there will be quite the spirited discussion in this post’s comments (just as there was for this one, one of my all-time favorites) . But there you go. We humans are convinced that we see the world as it really is, but that’s complete rubbish. We don’t. We see things filtered not just through our fallible senses, but also then interpreted by our ridiculously pliable minds.

The Universe is not trying to fool us. It doesn’t need to; we do an astonishingly good job of that ourselves. But as long as you’re aware of it you can see through the illusion, and, if you’re sufficiently willing to, you might see everything a bit more clearly.

Tip o’ the Necker cube to Richard Wiseman; go subscribe to his blog. Trust me. You’ll love it.


* I noticed an edit in the video at 50 seconds in. I imagine they just had to do another take, and not work any trickery; as you’ll see in my demo, it doesn’t matter! The effect is real. In that it’s an illusion. Um. You know what I mean.


Related posts:

The blue and the green (one of the single best illusions of all time)
The illusion will drive you mad
Why does the Moon look so huge on the horizon?
Square circle spiral

Book review: Paranormality

By Phil Plait | July 6, 2011 7:00 am

Regular readers may remember my friend: UK skeptic, psychologist, and my evil twin Professor Richard Wiseman. He delights in creating amazing illusions and situations that tease our brains and show us we can’t always trust our senses.

He has written a wonderful new book called
Paranormality: Why we see what isn’t there. In it, he tackles a wide range of "supernatural" phenomena such as ghosts, speaking to the dead, telekinesis, clairvoyance, and more. And he’s pretty clear about it: these things are all explained as psychological effects. Wishful thinking, illusions, hoaxes, and (most interestingly to me) our brain psychology.

I’m pretty familiar with lots of explanations of why we see things that aren’t there (illusions, logical fallacies, and the like), but the sections where Richard discusses our brain were somewhat new to me and honestly fascinating. He discusses how our senses inform our brain, and how these methods sometimes fail to represent reality faithfully.

Don’t think this is some dry recitation of scientific thinking! Richard’s style is very entertaining, always fun to read and with flashes of dry British wit that will certainly be enjoyed by a lot of my own readers here.

Which brings me to an important point: try as he might, Richard couldn’t find a publisher here in the States for this book. Oddly, a book stating clearly that the paranormal doesn’t exist can’t compete with books from the likes of Deepak Chopra and Sylvia Browne.

wiseman_meHappily, though, you can buy it for the Kindle, and his UK publisher will ship to the States.

Obviously, I highly recommend this book to anyone who reads my blog, and anyone who has an interest in the paranormal. This is not a mean-spirited book, nor some cynical denial of anything miraculous. It’s fun, thorough, and honestly delightful. I would actually categorize it as a good read for the beach, if you’re looking to enjoy some summertime repose.

C’mon. Would a guy with an evil twin lie to you?


Related posts:

Hidden circles illusion
Square Circle Spiral
Headless skeptic
Amazing spoon bending
The best bang since the big one

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Debunking, Skepticism

After Christmas comes a Wiseman from the east

By Phil Plait | January 1, 2010 1:10 pm

wiseman_meRichard Wiseman is funny, smart, personable, and uncommonly handsome. He’ll also be giving a talk on January 5th in New York City promoting his new book 59 Seconds. Called "Investigating the Impossible", it’s sponsored by the NYC Skeptics. It’s free and open to the public. He really is a great speaker, and if you’re near the Big Apple you should go. And tell him how good-looking he is.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Skepticism

Aiiiieeee! Slow down!

By Phil Plait | December 11, 2009 2:00 pm

Sometimes, news comes pouring in to Bad Astronomy HQ, and I am but a man, so I can’t keep up (writing about Saturn’s moons and giant galactic panoramas and big weird Scandinavian spinny thingies keep me pretty busy, y’know).

So here are some quick bits o’ interest.

1) Dr. Harriet Hall will inject (haha!) some medical sense into Oprah

2) You already knew this, but Rush Limbaugh is somewhat misinformed on basic matters of science and medicine*.

3) Obama’s science advisor John Holdren reads a book by my Hive Overmind compatriots!

4) Pulsar-discoverer Jocelyn Bell-Burnell blogs.

5) My friend, the Aussie skeptic Richard Saunders appeared on national TV and handed an astrologer his head.

6) My evil twin Richard Wiseman is fun at parties. Here’s the video:

OK, good. That oughta keep y’all busy while I write up my next big astronomy post.



In your head, you may wish to replace my description with some artfully selected words from Al Franken’s book title.

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.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff
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