Wednesday, April 14, 2010

optical ilusions and other conundrums

It is quite cool how I never end on getting amazed by simple things that have deeper meanings! Last week I bought a second hand little book with pictures of optical illusions as a present for my daughter. We ended quite enjoying it, looking the pictures together. One of the simpler ones depicted a circle in which several curved lines were drawn so the actual image resembled the typical representation of an sphere in two dimensions i.e. a page in a book. The figure had also a couple of points located more or less in the centre and below a single question: "what dot is exactly in the centre of the circle?"

As probably it is expected, the illusion was the fact that the dot located on the centre was the one that didn't look there, whilst the correct one seemed to be misplaced. So, my brain was playing tricks on me, even rationally knowing the fact that the drawing was in 2D! A sudden realization came to my mind, noticing that it is not enough knowing "rationally" what is the trick (the fact that the drawing of a 3D object in a surface involve the perspective distortion)... because some other area of the brain will still play a trick in our grasp of the reality! This issue, obviously provoked quite a bit of thinking (plus this article) and perhaps other ideas that I am still sorting for future posts. The main subject I want to mention in today's post is the amazing fact that even knowing that there is a trick and have a complete intellectual understanding of it, still we are deluded with the optical illusion. From there it occurred to me that this "decoupling" might explain why sometimes it seems that there are two sides, the rational one and the visceral one, that normally come in certain arguments, which involve politics of religion. It is amazing that no matter how good is an argument, at the end of the day the conclusion are always the same. It is therefore plausible that there is a genetic basis behind this behaviour, a mental constrain that forbid certain operation, even when some areas of the brain acknowledge the change. Thus, for example, you can forgive the behaviour of a scientist who believe in God... it is perhaps only a limitation of his/her human brain!