09 Mar

Beau Lotto: Optical illusions show how we see

The very clever and visually challenging talk can be visited here:

TIME: 16 Minutes, 31 Seconds

After being so highly entertained by Jill’s TED talk, I took to TED very much.  In fact I spent the rest of the entire day watching additional talks and this continued every spare moment for the rest of the week.  In many ways it was simply because it was so different, and maybe it was because I just found the entire concept of what TED is so incredibly fascinating.

This talk first caught my attention because of his quote (2:47), “As Barkley tells us, we have no direct access to our physical world, other than through our senses.”  Now this quote wasn’t anything particularly new to me, I’ve heard variations on the theme many times.  However, when attributed to the idea of optical illusion, or simply, illusion it shows how we our brains are tricking ourselves.  Throughout the entire talk, he brings up multiple examples of how images that appear the same might not be and vice versa; samples where things that should not look the same, are.

Now how I interpreted this information, actually had very little to do with optical illusions.  What I had found most fascinating (well, at the time) was the notion of similar data as absorbed by the human brain may be interpreted completely differently based upon incredibly random factors such as the light, or moment when it is witnessed.  I’ll try to summarize this entire phenomenon with a quote from a play I worked on.

She said, “He looked at me from across the bar, waved me over and said, ‘Hey Baby!’. 

And I didn’t find it creepy.”

That interpretation, of the brain interpreting one action as creepy versus another action as not creepy has a rather large impact.  It is what could start a relationship or ignore one, it is what makes a person comfortable versus paranoid.  And could it be possible, that these factors are not based upon the data, but rather the environment with which the data is viewed?  In essence, the illusion is as much the reality regardless of that reality. 

Long story short, I saw this talk as much deeper than most.

One Sentence Summary:

“Optical illusions may trick the mind and they are everywhere, and for whatever reason they don’t affect bees.”

Alright, this is a very shoddy one sentence summary but I think I might have been over zealous with my previous description anyways.

What caught me off guard:

I viewed this talk, probably the same way as 99% of other viewers do, and that was with a computer.  And my computer monitor was neither large or that particularly good so some of the illusion tests simply could not work for me.  (eg> Red/Green dot vs landscape test)  This wasn’t a big deal, only because I was more interested in the illusions we see in the everyday.

Quite certainly, the piece that took me off guard the most was how deeply I was interpreting what he was saying.  It could have been because of the fact he speaks with a slightly more complex vocabulary or it could be that he was using quotes that really caught my attention. 

I did forward this talk to quite a few friends (before social media sites) via email to many friends but outside of ‘that’s cool’ I think it stayed the same.  There is also another talk that speaks about how our brain interprets messages from our eyes which greatly stood out to me as well.  (I cannot find it tonight however, so I can only comment on remembering this paraphrasing “the human eye collects so much data that it can’t interpret it all at once so it creates images that it finds useful”.  In effect, if it sees something that it doesn’t consider to be useful, it ignores it or transforms the image into something useful to that person. 

I really dislike sideline mentioning another TED talk but the two relate.  No doubt over time, there will be many TED talks that relate to each other.

Questions that I had afterward.

How can I share this with other people?  Are we currently being blindsided with optical illusions everyday but our brain is simply accepting the data as truth?  Why do I write this blog so late at night?  All questions, seem relatively reasonable.

The beauty about TED talks, is that the information is online and that means it is accessible.  Back in 2009, all I had to do was copy it into an email and hit send.  Today, I can post it to my Facebook or, say, this blog.  In other words, my goal to share these with others wasn’t a one time offering.  By bringing it up again and again, this sharing will grow. 

As for getting the ‘true vision’ towards our reality, this is still a mystery.  On the other hand, as we seem to function quite normally without having a magical pair of sunglasses that filter out illusions then seeing what is actually real might not make a difference.  (Until we see a measurable difference which is repeatable, but that’s a different story)

And why am I blogging so late?  There exists some part of me that believes that blogging this late is best because I am available and Thursdays make a great ‘blog night’.  Ironically, this might be just an illusion.

So now that its been discussed, what can we do?

Well, in one aspect there is nothing we can do to really ‘tear down the illusions of reality’.  So, the answer is, in one interpretation, nothing.  He doesn’t give any instructions on how to not be fooled but rather simply how fascinating the human brain / eyes really are.  What’s also interesting is how easy it is for the common joe to be able to take this talk to heart.  Anyone who has gone to a buffet and achieved ‘eyes hungrier than the stomach’ status would know what it means to trick oneself with consequences.


If anything, I would recommend patience.  If the information we receive is taken as a possible illusion (as a given) then it is possible we might be able to avoid making silly mistakes.  On the other hand, and this sounds cryptic as heck, but sometimes one needs the illusion to get by.

Thanks for reading.  I find that this blog is still finding its development so there might be a few growing pains still ahead.  Just pretend its an illusion.


Updated every Thursday

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Posted by on March 9, 2012 in Uncategorized


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