The Speculist: Future Glimpses


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Future Glimpses


Why does the image above appear to move? Why do optical illusions work?

New research shows that it's because our brains, compensating for our inability to see in real time (we're actually about a 10th of a second behind the curve), compensate by showing us what is likely to happen next:

[Researcher Mark Changizi of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York] says it's our visual system that has evolved to compensate for neural delays, generating images of what will occur one-tenth of a second into the future. That foresight keeps our view of the world in the present. It gives you enough heads up to catch a fly ball (instead of getting socked in the face) and maneuver smoothly through a crowd.

"Illusions occur when our brains attempt to perceive the future, and those perceptions don't match reality," Changizi said.

Optical illusions such as the one shown above occur because our brains assume motion and are trying to show us what things will look like as we move towards (or away from) the image. Of course, we only become aware of this when something like an optical illusion draws our attention to it, but the truth is that our brains are doing this all the time -- everything we see is a prediction.

In his book On Intelligence, Jeff Hawkins claims that intelligence derives from prediction. This research would seem to go along with Hawkins' ideas -- if our vision is based on an attempt to predict what's coming next, why not all of our senses and, indeed, the very act of thinking?

We are all, in a very fundamental sense, futurists.


Is there any trick to seeing the illusion? I'm not perceiving any motion....

I think scaling the image down reduced the effect. I've put it back at full size. When I look at it, the sides appear to be converging.

"the sides appear to be converging."

Yeah, I definitely see it. The effect is best when I'm looking at it indirectly. If I direct my attention to one part of the picture it stops moving but the rest of the picture continues to move.

Weird. And very cool.


i just love the illusions

It doesn't seem to move!

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