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A Magician Explains Why We See What’s Not There

http://nautil.us/issue/70/variables/a-magician-explains-why-we-see-whats-not-there

nautil.us

A Magician Explains Why We See What’s Not There
Norman Triplett was a pioneer in the psychology of magic, and back in 1900, he published a wonderful scientific paper on magic that,…

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The ghost ball trick

The ghost ball trick

A magician sat at a table in front of a group of schoolchildren. He threw a ball up in the air a few times, but before his last throw, he secretly let the ball fall into his lap. Then he continued to throw an imaginary ball up in the air. Surprisingly, more than half the children claimed to have seen an illusory ball, or ghost ball.

The illusion relies on misdirecting the audience's expectations to anticipate you throwing the ball for real.

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The role that social cues play during magic tricks

In the vanishing ball illusion, a study found that when the magician pretends to throw the ball in the air, and his gaze follows the imaginary trajectory of the ball, almost two-thirds of the participants will be convinced that they had seen the ball move up. If his gaze did not follow the imaginary ball, the illusion was far less effective.

This illustrates that the illusion is mostly driven by expectations. Our eyes find it difficult to track fast-moving objects. Looking at the ball is only possible when we can predict where it will be in the future.

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Perception does not take place in the eyes

Although most participants experience an illusory effect during magic tricks, the eyes are not tricked. The conscious perception has been fooled by the illusion, but your eyes have not.

Lots of neural calculations are required before we can experience the world. Neural signals start in the retina, then it passes through different neural centers to the visual cortex and higher cortical areas, and eventually build a mental representation of the outside world. It takes about a tenth of a second for the light registered by the retina to become a visual perception. The neural delay means we perceive things at least a tenth of a second after they happened.

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A tenth-of-a-second delay

A tenth-of-a-second perceptual delay should make it impossible for you to catch a ball, especially during the magic tricks.

Our brain uses a very smart trick that prevents us from living in a delayed world. Our visual system is continually predicting the future so that we do not live in the past.

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"Pareidolia"

"Pareidolia"

A team of neuroscientists believes there might be a meaningful link between creativity and seeing faces in clouds.

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Studying involuntary imagination

At first, pareidolia (seeing shapes in clouds and in other inanimate objects) was seen negatively rather than a sign of creativity. It was even considered to be a symptom of psychosis or dementia.

In 1895, French psychologist Alfred Binet - known for his work on IQ tests - suggested that inkblots could be used in psychological research to study differences in involuntary imagination. This idea was further developed, resulting in inkblots to investigate people's personality and assess their psychological state.

Imagination is a sign of creativity

The creative aspect of pareidolia became known in the 19th century with the practice of 'klecksography' - the art of making images from inkblots.

Writer Victor Hugo experimented with folded papers and stains by holding his quill upside down to use the feather-end as a brush. Another practitioner of klecksography, German poet Justinus Andreas Christian Kerner, published Kleksographien (1890), a collection of inkblot art with accompanying short poems about the objects that can be noticed in the images.

What influences our perception

  • What we pay attention to and context
  • Expectations and stereotypes 
  • Motivation. We tend to see what we want to see.

Motivated perception

It is the idea that we see what we want to see.

It’s similar to another concept — motivated reasoning, where we come to conclusions we’re predisposed to believe in.

Naive realism

It is the feeling that our perception of the world reflects the truth.

Of all our senses, we tend to trust our eyes the most. And we believe that the way we see the world is the way that the world really is.

The concept of creativity

The concept of creativity

The main idea to the concept of creativity is that some people see more possibilities than others.

  • One way creativity is measured is by using divergent thinking task...

Creative vision

Research found that open people don't just bring a different perspective, they really see things differently.

A visual perception phenomenon is called binocular rivalry - where two different images are presented to each eye simultaneously, such as a red patch to the right eye and a green to the left eye. The observer will flip between seeing one patch, then the other. Open people see both images at once, creating a fused or scrambled image.

Seeing things that others miss

Inattentional blindness is a perceptual phenomenon. People experience this when they are so focused on one thing that they fail to see something else.

Your susceptibility to inattentional blindness depends on your personality; open people are more likely to see things that others overlook.