Your brain sure is an astonishingly unreliable thing. It lies to you pretty much 24/7. In fact, it happens to be lying to you right now. These letters you’re reading aren’t in fact letters at all. They are an illusion of shapes and colours. Much like when you play at an online casino for example; the images of cards, slots and wheels are all simply an elaborate visual trickery.
Take a closer look and you’ll discover that images on screens are collections of little dots, mixing and matching to give representation of pictures, colour, and even motion. But don’t dare believe what you’re seeing; most of it is just nonsense your brain decides you’d rather be seeing, than the actual truth. All this and some people still have the audacity to say things like I’ll believe it when I see it with my own eyes. Larks.
Either way, brain trickery sure is a fascinating thing. Recently, a set of images was doing the rounds on social media created by digital artist and programmer Øyvind Kolås. These images appear to be in colour, but it turns out the images are mostly black and white, and that obnoxious stuff in your head is making you believe that uniform colour exists across the whole image.
Frying Your Brain
According to Kolås, he got the idea from studying how printers apply colour to paper. Of course, printed images are an illusion all of their own, much like screens. The colours we see in printed pictures aren’t technically there at all. They are instead mixes of base colours, alternated, to create additional colours, or at least additional colours as seen by our eyes, and interpreted by our brains.
If you want to get a better idea of how that works, take a look at the earliest colour comics, which used this technique in the most basic, blatant of forms (Ben Day dots). The latest optical illusion images created by Kolås work on the same principal. A grid of colours is simply placed over greyscale, not even especially subtly or convincingly, and your mad brain does the rest.
The illusions in question show a classroom with students, each student wearing a colourful t-shirt. But lo and behold, the majority of this image is greyscale. The only colour present is in the overlay, which is applied in diagonal lines in one of Kolås’ experiments, and even as great big dots in another. Take a look for yourself to see the illusion in action, and question why you dare trust your brain at all. Clearly it has no idea what it’s doing.
How Does It Work?
Jokes aside, your brain is an incredibly adaptable and advanced system. Varying wavelengths of light are reflected by physical objects, and enter into the eyeball. Depending on the wavelength, different colours are seen. Why? Because physical surfaces absorb certain wavelengths, while reflecting others. If something is red, it mostly reflects ‘red’ wavelengths, while absorbing others.
So that’s all very good and well, but what does it have to do with optical illusions?
Your grey matter, poor overworked biological computer that it is, is on a constant mission to make quick sense of everything that it sees. In terms of colour, your brain, quickly and efficiently as it can, makes a few assumptions on what it is interpreting. This is where it gets interesting.
The Magic Of Red, Green, And Blue
It turns out that, technically speaking, your eyeball really only picks up red, green and blue. Or at least rough equivalents. Really think about that, and let it sink in. Look around right now, count how many distinct colours you see, and grasp that all these colours are just your eyeball and brain coming together, having a little discussion about it, and deciding that these combinations of red, green and blue equals this new, unique colour.
How is this possible? Well, with some real collected information via the eyeball, and the rest being a whole lot of guesswork. Your brain does a great deal of filling in the missing gaps, and generally just making crap up that it assumes is best for you.
Due to this massive amount of guesswork and filling in the blanks, you happen to be rather susceptible to optical illusions such as the images created by Mister Kolås. Again take note of the fact that, even though you are aware that the images are illusions, you can’t stop seeing them as illusions. Rather frustrating, isn’t it?
Though, on the other hand, if we were going around seeing the world unfiltered, we’d probably have been munched into extinction long ago by tigers, and other animals with clever camouflage techniques. You better believe your eyes and grey matter are on a serious, constant mission to distinguish between grass, and tiger stripes, that’s for damn sure. So a little filtering sure goes a long way in that regard.