Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Optical Illusions

When I first began my trip towards my career as a psychologist, perception/illusions was one of the subjects I studied along the way. I think, in illusions, we can most clearly see that the 'world' as we see it is simply that. It's the world as our brain processes it--not necessarily what's actually there. Over the years, this is a subject that's come back often to mind. We can't 'see' most of what makes up that mass of energy swimming around us. I think, sometimes, what it might be like to see with a different brain, with different training and experience or from a different perspective. What would actually be there? Is everything an illusion? Is that table in the corner where I think it is or shaped how I see it?? What does it look like to my dog? My cat?

Go to this page to look at a famous painting and what lies beneath it if you stand a long distance away. A link on the page leads to a number of other well-known illusions that serve to illustrate 'what you see ISN'T what you necessarily get'. Without this brain processing--this learning to see--we would live in a world of chaos, not knowing where to step next, where to reach out and for what.

Subjects like this fascinate me.

that homerun ball
becomes an apple--
or moonpie



Brian Campbell said...

Very interesting site, Pris. Have you seen the film "At First Sight" (with Mira Sorvino and Val Kilmer)? Based on a true story of a man who, blind from infancy, had his sight restored as an adult and had to go through a difficult process of learning how to perceive distance, depth, facial expressions, etc. -- in effect he had to learn how to look in order to see.

Ellen M Johns said...

Gosh...that got my brain working, an unusual occurrence for this early time of the morning.

My daughters are fascinated by optical illusions and we have spent many an evening/night looking at them on various sites.

My youngest daughter, Rebekah only asked me the other day "Mum, do we both see the same things and the same colour when we are watching t.v"?

I wasn't really sure how to answer, so I just said, "I think so"!

Pris said...

Hi Ellen
Yes, this does start one thinking.

I did see that movie. It interested me because, from what I know, they portrayed that sort of experience pretty accurately. In his case, he'd had some 'sight learning' before his blindness, but yes, learning depth perception or just how to see. Very difficult. I don't know if there've been any people who regained sight after being born blind or blinded as infants. It would be a strange world, indeed.

Lee Herrick said...

This really is fascinating, Pris. It reminds me of the famous poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" and the famous Japanese short story "In a Grove," where different eyewitnesses to the same crime SWEAR they saw what they saw, but each person has a different recollection. It's interesting also how "vision" alters when the other four senses are taken into account.

Pris said...

I'll have to see if I can find both or either of those, Lee. Thanks.

Lyle Daggett said...

Though I haven't read Huxley's Doors of Perception, it comes to mind, among other things. Surely one of the motivations of people who have experimented with chemical travel (shall we say) has been to explore, and push, the boundaries of perception and illusion.

A neuroscience student I met years ago said that the way LSD works (for example) is to temporarily and partially reduce the brain's production of the chemical screening agents that normally regulate the amount of information the brain takes in from the senses and the rest of the body. Less is screened out, so more sensation and perception and information get in. Similar to what happens in dreaming, the brain does its best to organize the chaotic flow into something coherent and recognizable, sometimes familiar and logical, sometimes wild and phantasmagoric.

I'm no neuroscientist (or any scientist at all) and can't say how accurate the above description is. Though it doesn't seem inconsistent with anything else I've come across on the subject.

It's often occurred to me that modern (industrial, technological) societies define "sanity" essentially by majority vote. A person who hears voices that no one else hears might be considered insane, or schizophrenic, or whatever term is used is whatever context. The majority of people (or the institutions of the society) decide the person is delusional because nobody else hears the voices. Does that mean the voices aren't real? They seem real enough to the person who hears them. In an absolute sense, we can't say that the voices aren't real, only that most of us don't hear them, so (by majority vote, in effect) we decide the voices probably aren't real. We vote on what commonly accepted reality is.

I'm not trying to oversimplify or trivialize an all to real phenomenon for many people, and the hellish difficulty it can cause in living life. Just saying that I find all of the questions highly provocative. Having worked in the profession yourself, I'm sure you could say much more about all of this.

Pris said...

I lived in Boston right before Alpert and Leary (Ram Dass and..can't remember what name Leary went to) were fired because of their experiments with LSD. And no, I'm not sure how it works, either, but as we both are aware, it changes the world as we know it. I never tried it because I knew too many people who had 'bad trips'. I also saw, in my work, one person who did it so much he finally didn't 'come back'. He was rooted in his apartment, insisting that he couldn't walk on the grass because that would hurt it. I happen to believe that all of nature has some level of consciousness and he had tapped into something. The only problem was that it rendered him unable to function. Maybe that's the reason we learn the 'barriers'?? I don't know.

The bulk of my years as a psychologist was running treatment units for people with chronic mental illnesses. I remember, too, the furor around those years about how we defined that concept. There's certainly no doubt in my mind that the people I saw heard voices. I never tried to tell them that they didn't. Instead, I worked with them on the idea that they were hearing what other people didn't and that this was what was causing themselves (for the most part) problems, that this was a chemical difference in their brains,etc. Very few people heard voices in a way that didn't hurt them. For certain, people who are seers have heard some sort of voices. The people in hospitals, however, were hearing voices that told them that the waitresses in Howard Johnsons were all talking sexually about them(and they would attack said waitresses and end up in the hospital again), that they had to turn left at a light when they wanted to turn right, that god wanted them to stand on one foot and not move, smear their feces on the walls, hit people, sometimes to kill people, etc.

Without getting into the ways to deal with this so that the person's life isn't hampered by these voices, it's clear , yes, that their brains were wired differently and that they were seeing something the rest of us would see or hear, too, were ours chemically wired the same way.

It's a fascinating subject.

Geoff Sanderson said...

intelligent mammals
walking backwards into
the future

now you
see it-- now you

Pris said...

makes sense to me:-)