Bizarre Illusions


grey square illusion
Illu­sions are cool. They make me think some­thing is hap­pen­ing when it isn’t. When offered the clas­sic illu­sion pic­tured to the right, I won­der at the color of A and B. How weird, bizarre, and in­cred­ible.

To­day I looked at the above illu­sion and thought, “Why do I keep think­ing A and B are differ­ent col­ors? Ob­vi­ously, some­thing is wrong with how I am think­ing about col­ors.” I am be­ing stupid when my I look at this illu­sion and I in­ter­pret the data in such a way to de­ter­mine dis­tinct col­ors. My ex­pec­ta­tions of re­al­ity and the in­for­ma­tion be­ing trans­mit­ted and re­ceived are not lin­ing up. If they were, the illu­sion wouldn’t be an illu­sion.

The num­ber 2 is prime; the num­ber 6 is not. What about the num­ber 1? Prime is defined as a nat­u­ral num­ber with ex­actly two di­vi­sors. 1 is an illu­sion­ary prime if you use a poor defi­ni­tion such as, “Prime is a num­ber that is only di­visi­ble by it­self and 1.” Build­ing on these bad as­sump­tions could re­sult in all sorts of weird re­sults much like di­vid­ing by 0 can make it look like 2 = 1. What a tricky illu­sion!

An op­ti­cal illu­sion is only bizarre if you are mak­ing a bad as­sump­tion about how your vi­sual sys­tem is sup­posed to be work­ing. It is a flaw in the Map, not the Ter­ri­tory. I should stop think­ing that the vi­sual sys­tem is re­port­ing RGB style col­ors. It isn’t. And, now that I know this, I am sud­denly cu­ri­ous about what it is re­port­ing. I have dropped a bad be­lief and am look­ing for a re­place­ment. In this case, my vi­sual sys­tem is dis­t­in­guish­ing be­tween some­thing else en­tirely. Now that I have the right an­swer, this op­ti­cal illu­sion should be­come as un­in­ter­est­ing as ques­tion­ing whether 1 is prime. It should stop be­ing weird, bizarre, and in­cred­ible. It merely high­lights an ob­vi­ous re­al­ity.

Ad­den­dum: This post was ed­ited to fix a few prob­lems and er­rors. If you are at all in­ter­ested in more de­tails be­hind the illu­sion pre­sented here, there are a hand­ful of ex­cel­lent com­ments be­low.