Do Not Stand Still: Lesson from an Optical Illusion Trick

There is an interesting puzzle that occasionally is being circulated around. Click on this picture to see how it works. It’s simple, but, like all illusions of this type, surprising.

ImageIllusions like this just prove how complex, amazing and dilligent our brain is. It doesn’t just work to give us information about the environment, it works even harder to improve itself and do the most with the hardware the nature bestowed upon us.

This is an optical illusion caused by the brain using its computational abilities to manipulate the sensorial data. It does this on many occasions, for good reason, otherwise we would go nuts. It puts things into perspective, literally, to help us cope with the external world.

Disobey the Instruction and See

Disobey the instruction and instead of staring at the dot for ten seconds just let you eyes roam skip around and hit the dot occasionally.  This time when the picture transitions to the white background no distortion occurs. Why is that? The abscence of fabricated reality is caused by the brain not being able find a persistent pattern that can be classified as a candidate for process automation.

An easy way to explain this is to use the Japanese cartoons as a proxy for how this works. To make the production as effective as possible the Japanese cartoon designers keep most of the animated frames static with the exception of the essential details that must change in synchronisation with the sound to create maximum cinematic impact. Very often these details are the mouth, the eyes, the hands and the main moving objects (bullets, rays, guns, etc.). Remember Heidi and her crooked mouth?  Unless you want to notice this, if you follow the story the static frames don’t even bother you.  The brain does the same: it tries to focus on what is new and keeps the static scene as a background to free up working memory as much as possible. It also does this to automate information processing involving subconscious thinking. This is why often you are not even aware of these illusions unless you set up traps like this puzzle.

Do Not Stand Still

In a bigger scheme of things this demonstrates how difficult is to adopt a set of contradictory skills and keep them in balance. On one hand organising information processes in detail is helpful, on the other hand it can be misleading because by the time the organisation is complete, the data source already changed and the organisation is not suitable anymore.  You want to be thorough, but not slow. You want to be fast, but not superficial.

The brain uses the same principle of efficiency in all its operational aspects. This is how habits are formed.  Repeated actions signal the brain it is time to push the memory of the related information into the basal ganglia and let the subconscious deal with the execution of these routines.  On many occasions we just do things without even knowing.

Could it be that we have similar illusions in other areas of our lives?  What happens when we work on something fixated on a particular detail? Let’s take politics as an example. If a political party treats an aspect of our society as a red dot and frames it in vivid colours making everyone getting obsessed about that, how long does it take the audience to adopt the new colours and not even notice it is in fact a simple black on white scenario? Or the way an organisation works: environmental change occurring around an official red dot and no one sees the real change until late. Or late say, someone makes a vaccine rare unfortunate occurrence a red dot that gets everyone’s attention, while vastly more people suffer from not using the vaccine.

It can happen in the context of a group of friends, larger social groups, cities, etc.

Or the economy. Follow the news flow in financial markets and you see in a year a long string of red dots occurring on issues that trigger a sharp reaction from the markets, or a sub group of market participants, only to disappear in a week or two as if nothing happened. But boy, wasn’t that issue so credible even after (or more importantly AFTER, allowing those who see beyond the focal point to take advantage of the illusion) the red dot stopped flashing like mad?

Keep looking, and when you see a red dot refuse to get hypnotised. Consider other points of reference. Move your focus around. By all means notice the red dot, but do not submit yourself entirely to its magnetic eye.