Seemingly deceitful

“The Devil’s Trident” et al.

Simply put an illusion is something that is not real. But we most of us want to believe in things that science and reason tell us, by verifiably replicable experiments and observations, are not real; are “illusionary.” They say we see with our eyes, but let us be clear here, our eyes simply act as conduits to our brains, it is our brains that decipher and decide. For those fortunate enough not to be blind, we do like to be titillated by objects of beauty, panoramic views, the flickering of a fire, the waves rolling in and, optical illusions. The latter are a subject of much interest, writing in 1976, Coren et al. (1976, p. 129) pointed out that in the 120 years since Johann Joseph Oppel published the first systematic work on visual geometric illusions, “nearly a thousand papers have appeared that deal with distortions evoked by simple two-dimensional patterns of lines.” In the past 20 years with the aid of computers (to analyse) and social media (to share) the interest in optical illusions has grown further still (Alter, 2013; Hogenboom, 2015; Schultz, 2013). In this short essay I will discuss a number of such illusions, the way/s in which they trick the brain (alongside the human visual system) and the psychology behind them. But first I will discuss the workings of the eye and how it, like the human brain, is very susceptible to chicanery and trickery—to being deceived.

In the beholder’s eye

We know that the human eye works like a camera. When we look at something, light reflected from that thing enters the eyes through the pupil. Bizarrely it comes in upside down and this light and colour info is focused through the optical bits and bobs within the eye (see Appendix A). As Whitaker et al. (1996, p. 2957) point out in relation to the typical functioning of the human eye:

Judgment of the relative position of objects is an important feature of the human visual system. We seem able to perform this task effortlessly across spatial scales. Thus, whilst we can view two objects and estimate their separation, we are also aware of the relative position of internal features of the objects themselves.

However, the human eye, as with the human mind can easily be tricked. Optical illusions occur because our brains automatically try to interpret and make sense of what we see, usually they get things right, that Apple iPad ‘is’ an Apple iPad but, magicians and sellers of snake oil (and psychologists and visual artists) have long known eyes can be tricked because the human brain is partial to seeing myth as fact and fact as fake. Optical illusions fool our brains into seeing things which are there when they are not actually there or are not seemingly there when, in fact, they actually are.

Perception—what we think, what we think we see—is the interpretation of the things that enter our minds including via our eyes. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is subjective. Therefore, the same object will not be seen as the same thing by any two people. As pointed out by Hogenboom (2015) Aristotle wrote that, “our senses can be trusted but they can be easily fooled.” This was in the context of him looking (not into Nietzsche’s abyss, but) into a waterfall for too long. He observed that, if we watch something moving quickly for too long, and then look at an inanimate object next to it — like the rocks beside a waterfall — they will appear to move in the opposite direction; a phenomena now classified as the “motion aftereffect” or, “the waterfall illusion.” Neuroscientists have argued that this can be explained by the fact that it takes a lot of energy and effort for the eye to compute fast moving and continually ‘forward’ moving objects so that when it suddenly switches to seeing a stationary object if over emphasises the lack of movement and moves the object slowly ‘backward’ (Hogenboom, 2015).

There is a theory attached to all of this and it is called the Centroid Hypothesis. It states that judgments of distance between visual objects are influenced by the brain’s computation of the “centroids of the luminance profiles of the objects” (Whitaker et al., 1996). Concerning the Devil’s Trident (see Appendix B), the Müller-Lyer arrows (see Appendix C), the Penrose triangle (see Appendix D) and similar illusions, the pattern of neural excitation evoked by contextual flank overlaps with that caused by the stimulus terminator, thereby leading (due to the shift of the centroid of summed excitation) to its perceptual displacement. The relative displacement of all stimulus terminators leads to misjudgement of distances between them; that is, the illusion occurs as a side effect due to necessarily low spatial resolution of the neural mechanism of assessment of the relative location of the visual objects.

The Devil’s Trident 🔱

Devil's Trident -- an optical illusion
Figure 1: “The Devil’s Trident,” Masterton and Kennedy (1975, p.107).

The Devil’s Trident (a.k.a., “The Impossible Trident”) was first noted in the academic press by an American psychologist—Donald Schster—who is said to have been inspired by an advert he saw in a magazine (Schuster, 1964). Accounts of the “Devil’s Trident”—see Appendix B—stress that the middle prong, “appears to be in two places at the same time” and that it involves, “incompatible surface depth cues linked as though they were compatible” (Masterton & Kennedy, 1975, p.107).

Knowledge of optical illusions is not a recent thing. Like all good things, we can go back to Ancient Greece to find initial thinking on the subject: Aristotle and the waterfall (as mentioned above). Indeed, as Bach and Poloschek (2006 p. 21) say, Plato also alerted us to the discrepancy between perception and reality in his “Allegory of the Cave.” Philosophers remain intrigued to this day. As Donaldson (2017) argues that impossible figures prove problematic for sense-data accounts of perception that contend that, corresponding to every visual human experience, there are mental objects (sense-data) that we are aware of—and that sense-data have the properties that the objects that our experiences tell us they do. The problem is that sense-data would have to be impossible objects … surely, impossible objects can’t exist!” There are other explanations. For example, illustrations like the Müller-Lyer arrows (see Appendix C) confuses the brain (in some cultures, according to Alter (2013), not all) and it overcompensates, “making the line appear bigger — as it would have to be in real life to produce those kinds of proportions” (Hogenboom, 2015).

Concluding remarks

To sum up, we can assume that we will never be able to suddenly see true reality with crystal clear clarity and 20/20 vision, be it the waterfall’s rock, the shadow play in the cave or the Devil’s Trident. But this is the magic of reality. This is something we should embrace and revere, not fear. Just because we do not know what lies within black holes or what exists beyond the edge of the universe does not mean we need to create myths to fill in the gaps and then dogmatically and religiously follow them (see Dawkins, 2011). Personally, I like that art can trick us it actually says to me we are human. Also, I feel that visual illusions are actually logical and explainable by reason and science: our brains have evolved to need to constantly predict what is about to happen so, illusions demonstrate our brain being logical and telling us what we should ‘typically’ see not what we rarely physically see.

References

Alter, A. (2013). Are These Lines the Same Height? Popular Science. Retrieved, https://www.popsci.com/science/article/2013-03/are-these-walls-the-same-size-your-answer-depends-on-where-youre-from/

Bach, M &, Poloschek, C. (2006). Optical Illusions. Visual Neuroscience, 6(2), 20-21.

Coren, S., Girgus, J., Erlichman, H., &, Hakstian, A. (1976). An empirical taxonomy of visual illusions. Perception & psychophysics, 20(2), 129–137. doi.org/10.3758/BF03199444

Dawkins, R. (2011). The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. London: Bantam Press.

Donaldson, J. (2017). “Impossible Trident” in F. Macpherson (ed.), The Illusions Index. Retrieved, https://www.illusionsindex.org/i/impossible-trident.

Hogenboom, M. (2015). How your eyes trick your mind. BBC. Retrieved, http://www.bbc.com/future/bespoke/story/20150130-how-your-eyes-trick-your-mind/index.html

Howey, T. (2016). “How the eye works” Retrieved, https://www.tomhowey.com/How-the-Eye-Works

Masterton, B. &, Kennedy, J. (1975). Building the Devil’s Tuning Fork. Perception, 4(1), 107–109. doi.org/10.1068/p040107

Schuster, D. H. (1964). A new ambiguous figure: A threestick clevis. The American Journal of Psychology, 77(4), 673. doi.org/10.2307/1420787

Schultz, C. (2013). Are Optical Illusions Cultural? Smithsonian. Retrieved, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/are-optical-illusions-cultural-6633978/

Whitaker, D., McGraw, P. V., Pacey, I., & Barrett, B. T. (1996). Centroid analysis predicts visual localization of first-and second-order stimuli. Vision Research, 36(18), 2957–2970. doi.org/10.1016/0042-6989(96)00031-4

Wikipedia (2020a). “Impossible trident.” Retrieved, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impossible_trident

Wikipedia (2020b). “Müller-Lyer illusion.” Retrieved, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%BCller-Lyer_illusion

Wikipedia (2020c). “Penrose Triangle”. Retrieved, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penrose_triangle

— § —

Appendix A


How the Eye Works
(Howey, 2016)

— § —

Appendix B


Devil's Trident -- an optical illusion
Note: The devil’s trident (or ‘tuning fork’) is a drawing of an impossible to physically construct object. As articulated by Wikipedia (2020a), “it appears to have three cylindrical prongs at one end which then mysteriously transform into two rectangular prongs at the other end” (see also: Masterton & Kennedy, 1975, p.107).

— § —

Appendix C


Note: The Müller-Lyer illusion typically comprises of three arrows and we think the stems of these arrows are different lengths but, as the diagram shows, they are in fact the same length; as far as we know it was first devised by the German sociologist Franz Müller-Lyer in the late 1800s (Wikipedia, 2020b).

— § —

Appendix D


Impossibility in its purest form” is how the so-called Penrose Triangle is described. It is another of these object which can be drawn but cannot exist as a solid object -- just like this paper’s 'Devil’s Trident'
Note  “Impossibility in its purest form” is how the so-called Penrose Triangle is described. It is another of these object which can be drawn but cannot exist as a solid object (Wikipedia, 2020c) — just like this paper’s “Devil’s Trident” (see Appendix B, above).

Daydreams & Nightmares

** actions have consequences.

The Power of Nightmares is a 2004 documentary made and produced by Adam Curtis. It explores the origins of contemporary Islamic fundamentalism. Curtis draws parallels between it and Neo-conservatism in America and then considers the impact of both. It consists of three parts:

01. — It’s Cold Outside
02. — Phantom Victory
03. — Shadows in the Cave

Anti-capitalism_color—_Restored
Life’s a Layer cake.
Banksy---Visitors-not-welcome
Them & Us
Divided-we-stand---United-we-fall
Divided we Fall /
United we Stand //

but what about individuality¿?¿ ‘What’ indeed!


Oh So You Kay:

“Yes Minister”
— Classic British political satire.
The Thick Of It
“The Thick of It”
— Political satire at it’s very best.
The Mash Report
“The Mash Report”
— Contemporary political lampooning.

Selfish {self.E}

The Century of the Self

The Century of the Self is a 2002 documentary made and produced by Adam Curtis. It considers the rise of psychoanalysis as a powerful mean of persuasion for both governments and multinational corporations. It consists of four parts:

01. — The Happiness Machine
02. — The Engineering of Consent
03. — The Policemen Inside our Heads
04. — People Sipping Wine

Stockholm syndrome

‘F’ me! ‘F’ me! ‘F’ me!
is this… is this…
me?

DEF.

Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response.

It occurs when hostages or abuse victims bond with their captors or abusers.

This psychological connection develops over the course of the days, weeks, months, or even years of captivity or abuse.

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Love will tear us apart;
You’ve stolen my heart.
1) The second coming: Am I Dreaming?
2) Did I ruin you?
3) The second coming: Am I Dreaming?
4) Have you ruined me?
5) The second coming: Am I Dreaming?
6) A new beginning? The final ending?
Love will tear us apart;
You’ve stolen my heart.


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📙 Future Shock

“Choice overload” etc.

— The cognitive process in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with too many options. These terms and the underlying concept were introduced by Alvin Toffler in his 1970 book, Future Shock.

In the book, Toffler wrote:

The illiterate of the 21st c. will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

The concept of ‘future shock’ — recall that this book was written half a century ago — is described as the shattering stress and disorientation that technological change induces to individuals and society at large by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time. To underscore, this was written at the end of the 1960 — the era before Google, iPhones, Tinder and Snapchat — with 5G, uber, the zero hour gig economy and the AI revolution now upon us, these changes are occurring more frequently, far more frequently, than they were a quarter of a century ago let alone 50 years ago. As Future Shock basically states, while humankind’s technological powers increase, the side effects and potential hazards also escalate.

Change is not merely necessary to life — it is life.

Prophetically Toffler wrote that, one of the definitions of sanity is the ability to tell real from unreal. Soon we’ll need a new definition. I’d say soon became now when Trump et al. introduced fake news and alternative facts. Think: Deepfake. Read: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

I say:

Too much choice is a curse.

📙 The Magic of Reality

O. J. ( as in, “Oh, Jay!” )

This book really and truly fascinated me:

The examples and illustrations are mind opening and mind blowing, respectively.

96
p. 96

Richard Dawkins (see full profile here) is an English evolutionary biologist, author and professor at Oxford University. His seminal work The Selfish Gene (1976), popularised the gene-centred view of evolution and introduced the term meme. Here are a few extracts from The Magic of Reality that I feel it is okay to share as editable .pdf files:

pp. 12-13 from ‘The Magic of Reality’ (Dawkins, 2011)


pp. 32-52 from ‘The Magic of Reality’ (Dawkins, 2011)


pp. 118-139 from ‘The Magic of Reality’ (Dawkins, 2011)


pp. 246-265 from ‘The Magic of Reality’ (Dawkins, 2011)

Reading…

After ending my affair with a married person I’m overwhelmed with grief
— Trish Murphy (2016, November 4th) The Irish Tines

From the Irish Times
‘My heart is breaking and I am struggling not to pick up the phone if even just to hear his voice.

The Situation

I have just ended an affair with a married man that has been going on for the last number of years. It started out as a flirt and then a fling and for the sex, but we soon fell deeply in love. He is quite simply the love of my life. I am married myself but very unhappy with my husband. My lover is not unhappy in his marriage and loves his wife and family. But I know that he loves or at least he did love me, by the way he has shown that love to me, respected me and treated me like a woman but at the same time his equal. No one else has ever treated me this way, least of all my husband. We both agreed that we would not break up our marriages to be together.

It ended badly and I am largely to blame. I was very resentful of his wife and almost to punish him for being happy with her I picked fights and put distance between us when my heart and body wanted more than anything to be in his arms. In the end he ran out of patience with me. When it came to a head a lot of very unkind things were said by both of us. We have had rows before but it’s different this time because he has not tried to smooth things over as he normally would and I’m ashamed to say that even when I was in the wrong I used to let him be the one to make the running.

I know that this was wrong from the very start and should never have happened. I’m not writing to ask for absolution or seek advice as to whether or not to continue. I am writing because my heart is breaking and I am struggling not to pick up the phone to him if even just to hear his voice. The only other person I could have spoken to about this is him. He really was my soul mate. I have hurt him badly, and him me, but I know him and if I did call he would be kind and gentle and probably forgiving.

I can make myself cold and close his memory out, but not all day and not every day and when I let myself think of him and how wonderfully he treated me, I am just overwhelmed. I have never had a close bereavement but this feeling must be what grief is like. My biggest fear is that he will go through the rest of his life not knowing exactly how I feel for him, even if we are finally over.

The Council

You sound as though you are deeply in grief and the difficulty is that the lost person is not gone and you still have the opportunity of contacting him. This keeps you caught up in that possibility and perhaps the acceptance phase of the grief is eluding you.

You say your biggest fear is that your lover will not know how you feel about him but if you open up communication again, you are doing so at a lot of risk to yourself, your ex-lover and his family, and your own family. That is a huge responsibility when you know you could not handle the small part of his life that he offered you and you are likely to again demand that he choose you over his wife and children.

You sound surprised at the level of respect and dignity that you received at the behest of your lover and this begs the question of what kind of relationship you are in now. Does your own marriage need attention and decision-making and what affect is your affair and heartbreak having on your husband?

Even though you were treated well in the affair, there was never the option that you would be number one in the life of your lover and this might be something you should set as a bottom line in your current or future relationships.

To go back to your lover would be to assume a secondary role and, as you found out previously, this ultimately is not acceptable to you and unhappiness and fighting is the result. From your letter it seems that you do not feel number one in your husband’s life and he is definitely not top of your list of love.

This situation sounds intolerable and it is likely that you are causing emotional damage to each other and instead of addressing this situation you are investing in an impossible love affair. Facing into and tackling your marriage difficulties would be the first step in dealing with reality and then perhaps you might begin to create a new reality in which you can construct a relationship worth fighting for.

Our brains explained

neuro-01

1. The Pratfall Effect – your likability will increase if you aren’t perfect.

2. The Pygmalion Effect – greater expectations drive greater performance.

3. The Paradox of Choice – the more choice we have, the less likely we are to be content with our decision.

4. The Bystander Effect – the more people who see someone in need, the less likely that person is to receive help.

5. The Spotlight Effect – your mistakes are not noticed as much as you think.

6. The Focusing Effect – people place too much important on one aspect of an event and fail to recognise other factors.

Dream on

nightmares are made of these

why.we.dream

Alice Robb argues that where your brain goes when you’re asleep helps you when you’re awake. In other words, dreams/nightmares can help us deal with life’s problems and difficulties. She writes:

By the time we reach adulthood, most of us have accepted the conventional wisdom: We shouldn’t dwell on our dreams. Even though research suggests that REM sleep — when most dreaming takes place — is crucial for mental and physical health, we think of dreams as silly little stories, the dandruff of the brain. We’re taught that talking about our dreams is juvenile, self-indulgent, and that we should shake off their traces and get on with our day.

[…]

Because dreams rarely make literal sense, it can be easier to dismiss them than to try to interpret them. Some argue they’re an accident of biology and mean nothing at all. But a growing body of scientific work indicates that it’s likely to be worth the effort. Dreams might help us consolidate new memories and prune extraneous pieces of information. They might be a breeding ground for ideas — a time for the brain to experiment in a wider network of associations.

Here is a link to the article in full: Why Do You Keep Dreaming You Forgot Your Pants? It’s Science

dreams


Reading, Task & Answer-key:

1. Reading: an extract on anxiety dreams

2 Worksheet based on reading

3. Answer-key

Reference:
Robb, A. (2018) Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.