I don’t like a lot of optical illusions because they always seem one-dimensional to me, and I don’t mean that in the topological sense. When I view an optical illusion, I say things to myself like, "Wow, that’s weird!" or "That one hurts my eyes!" and then I go on to the next one. Sometimes there will be an explanation of how the illusion fools my eyes and brain, and that’s interesting, yet hardly relevant in my daily life. But if I analyze this illusion, what can it tell me?
First, I don’t know what it is. I mean, it’s an abstract shape that doesn’t represent anything.
That’s the first thing. As a viewer, I’m told it’s an optical illusion, so I know that something’s not right with it. I’m not encountering it out on the street or somewhere in my life without an explanation. So the graphic has been framed as an optical illusion for me.
How is it an illusion? When I look at it, I sense that the figure is not a square, and the lines inside it are not square. So my eyes tell me it’s warped. But since I know it’s an illusion, I think, "Hey, I’ll bet those lines are really straight, and they just look warped." And I’d be right.
So now it’s time to move on to something else. I’m done with that illusion. It’s dead to me. But if I don’t want to explore all the cognitive and neuro-brainiac details about how the illusion works, what else do I know?
1) Well, I think to myself, maybe the lines are actually warped, and the illusion is that… that this is actually not an illusion at all. (Which means that I’m lying to you, and messing with you.)
2) Maybe I don’t believe that the lines are actually straight. I’m a very skeptical person. What can I do? I can print out the graphic and measure it with some kind of straight edge, and prove to myself that the lines are straight.
3) I can wonder to myself: where else in my life can 89 smaller pieces of information (the 89 small black and white boxes) interfere with the other 100 pieces of information (the slightly larger black and white boxes) to distort the view of the largest box, and make it look like what it is not?
Or, in other words, can viewing small bits of information distort my view of the big picture? You don’t need lots of analysis to tell you the answer. The answer is: Yes, small bits of information can deceive you and distort the big picture.
You’re looking at the proof.