My favorite type of illusion is what Wikipedia tells me is called a “robust illusion” – the type that doesn’t depend on being tricked. Robust illusions work even when you’re told exactly what mistake your brain is going to make – the prior knowledge doesn’t matter. Our brains still screw it up reliably.
I used to face this illusion every day – our dorm elevators are set to stay on the 1st floor for an irritating and inconvenient amount of time, no matter how many times you press your floor or the “close door” button.
Pressing that button made me feel better even though it doesn’t work, has never worked, and never will work. Because my brain is stupid.
(Maybe ‘stupid’ is too strong a term. But at the very least, my brain is willfully ignorant.)
Luckily, my brain isn’t alone: a friend sent me a video of “The McGurk Effect” (it starts at 0:38), telling me it was this awesome thing where a guy says “Bah, bah, bah” to a video recording of him mouthing “Fah, fah, fah”, and you actually hear the “Fah”s because your brain gets confused and decides to make the sound up out of nowhere.
I was skeptical, then floored when I actually heard the “Fah”. I couldn’t believe it worked even though I knew exactly what was going to happen.
It’s a must watch. I promise it’ll blow your mind.
I went searching for journal articles on it and they didn’t make me feel any smarter – how am I supposed to trust my brain when it can be such a liar?
(The Cliff’s Notes version of the linked article:
Auditory Processing Center: Okay, he’s saying “Bah”, so –
Visual Processing Center: Cool, yeah, but he’s saying “Fah“. Go tell the Auditory cortex.
Auditory Processing Center: What? No, that’s not it at all, he –
Visual Processing Center: Yeah, whatever. I win, screw you. AUDITORY CORTEX?
Auditory Cortex: ‘Sup.
Visual Processing Center: He’s saying “Fah”.
Auditory Cortex: Cool. I’ll go tell the frontal lobe. *leaves*
Auditory Processing Center: … I hate you.)