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Biotech Science

Scientists Find Believing Can Be Seeing 169

Posted by samzenpus
from the the-mind-is-quicker-than-the-eye dept.
Ponca City, We Love You writes "Scientists at University College London have found the link between what we expect to see, and what our brain tells us we actually saw revealing that the context surrounding what we see is all important — sometimes overriding the evidence gathered by our eyes and even causing us to imagine things which aren't really there. A vague background context is more influential and helps us to fill in more blanks than a bright, well-defined context. This may explain why we are prone to 'see' imaginary shapes in the shadows when the light is poor. "Illusionists have been alive to this phenomenon for years," said Professor Zhaoping. "When you see them throw a ball into the air, followed by a second ball, and then a third ball which 'magically' disappears, you wonder how they did it. In truth, there's often no third ball — it's just our brain being deceived by the context, telling us that we really did see three balls launched into the air, one after the other." The original research paper is available on PLOS, the open-access, peer-reviewed journal."
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Scientists Find Believing Can Be Seeing

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  • by nexuspal (720736) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @09:12AM (#22501142)
    All of the police officer shootings where the victim had a remote or other non-nefarious object in their hands. It is quite possible that the officer had a mindset to the effect that, hey this guy probably has a gun, and his or her mind see's what they wanted to see.
  • Re:News? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by susub23 (1152089) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @09:12AM (#22501144)
    It may not be a breaking news story, but it's definitely interesting. I think we all have had things like this happen, and I guess I'm not surprised that it's triggered more by vague context. I've always just figured people were exaggerating when they describe stories about things that happened and someone else calls them out on it - but they probably thought they really saw what they claimed to see.
  • Idealism (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bug1 (96678) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @10:47AM (#22502116)
    There is a branch of philosophy called idealism which is pretty out there, it seems a bit crazy at first, but it deserves more respect than one gets from an initial glance.

    All our experiences come from our senses, our eyes/ears/nose/skin/tongue send electrical impulses to our brain, the mind interpreters these groups of sensory experiences and we call it reality.

    Idealism says (as best i can describe) that "reality" is the mind's interpretation of these sensory experiences, what causes our senses to send a particular sensory experience to the brain isnt directly knowable, therefore not as relevant as the experience itself.

    It is the sensory experience itself that defines reality, i.e. reality is the effect not the cause.

    The Wikipedia page doesnt do the topic justice.
  • by somersault (912633) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @11:30AM (#22502766) Homepage Journal
    Well, considering I've only been driving for a 'few years' and the accidents I had were within 6 months of my test :P Not exactly boasting, just saying that I don't consider my driving pre that course to have been reckless, especially compared to the average driver. The difference now is that I *know* that I'm a lot better than the average driver, and have been told so by someone that's been a police driving instructor for about 30 years. A lot of the things we were taught were things that I've been doing naturally (possibly partially because I was first taught to drive by my dad, who used to be in the police himself before becoming a coder), and I've unlearned some bad habits that I picked up over the years. I'm also obeying speed limits more now (not the ones on country roads, but in built up areas I am), but I don't going slower to be the primary reason for improved safety (or, rather, reduction of elements that could present a danger, since 'safety' can only really be seen in retrospect through a lack of accidents really), I see more my going slower as a result of firstly having more respect for the law through having been driving with a police officer and hearing that they understand that speed is not a primary factor in defining how safe a driver you are, and two it is a side effect of paying more attention - when I first was trying to take in everything like road signs that I'd never seen before, I automatically was driving at about 20mph just trying to get used to looking at them again, as well as reading them out. Now I can do my sign observations at any speeds, but since I got used to travelling at 30 without being too bored, I've been able to keep my speed down, and long may it continue (just because I feel guilty breaking the speed limits even when I know it's "safe" to do so!)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 21, 2008 @02:13PM (#22505272)
    Not the naked lady on the clamshell, but the planet.

    I was __AMAZED__ when I first heard this, but you can see Venus in the daytime with the naked eye. If, tht is, your brain lets you.

    First, you need to figure out where Venus is. If Venus is in it's "Evening Star" mode (i.e., if you can see it just after sunset) then you can use your hand at arms length to measure roughly how far behind the sun it is : say 3 hands. Or, you could be a geek and just look it up using some kind of astronomy software or a web search. The point is, you need to be able to predict more or less where Venus will be in the daytime sky.

    The next day, when the sun is still up, you can direct your gaze at that particular patch of blue sky; e.g., 3 hands behind (i.e., East) of the sun. What you will see is a patch of blue sky with absolutely nothing in it. That's because the context (empty blue sky) is reinforced by your brain - it filters out the fact that there are actually non-uniformities in the signals from your retina. Otherwise, the world would look much more like static on a TV screen. Anyway, keep looking. It helps if you don't stare intently at a specific fixed point, but rather let your gaze go kind of soft, letting your peripheral vision operate. If you are looking at the right patch of sky, and if you're patient, some kind of threshold is reached and Venus will suddenly "pop out" and be clearly visible. Once your brain (the low-level filtering part of your visual system) decides that thre really _is_ something there, then it reinforces the perception rather than suppressing it. You can stare at the planet and see it plain as day. If you look away even for an instant, Venus will be "gone" and you'll probably have to wait a bit for it to pop out at you again.

    I've done this with binoculars, and it works the same way. It's a bit more difficult to find the planet, but once it "pops out" at you its easier to stay on it. I'd start with the naked eye.

    Anyway, doing this little experiment takes a little preparation (figuring out where Venus is) and does take some effort and patience, but when it works its very impressive, much more impressive (IMO) than some lame optical illusion on paper that you've probably already seen a hundred times.

    Good luck, and don't let the neighbors see you.
  • by nasor (690345) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:33PM (#22507340)
    The first thing that came to mind for me is that this is even more evidence that eye-witness testimony isn't a reliable source of information in criminal trials. If I was ever serving on a jury and the only evidence was someone's eye-witness testemony, I'm not sure I could ever consider that proof "beyond a reasonable doubt."
  • by rlh100 (695725) on Thursday February 21, 2008 @04:43PM (#22507472) Homepage

    I went to a local meeting of the AES (Audio Engineering Society) last week. The talk was about how we perceive stereo sound. The final demonstration was a mystery box with two "circuits" in it. When he switched a circuit in, there would be a 1/2 second delay, and then we would hear it. So we could know what circuit it was it would light either a red or a blue led would light. The then proceeded to play a series of samples 3 times each, one for each circuit and one plain. He used the circuits and plain in different orders as he was working through various samples. When he was done he asked us what we heard each circuit do to the sound. He specifically ask if there was no difference. Now this was a room with about 40-50 audio industry people. Some were students or interested people like my self, but 2/3 were practicing professionals.

    When he asked for comments he got a lot of thoughtful comments and different ideas. I personally thought the red circuit had more room sound and sounded warmer and the blue circuit sounded like the microphone was further back in the room and was more ethereal. Nobody said "no difference".

    He then reveled that the circuit was nothing more than a LED selector switch and a 1/2 second mute circuit. Otherwise it was a straight wire as far as the audio is concerned. During the demonstration he went to great lengths to not state that the circuits did anything and he mentioned several times "is there no difference?". A room full of audio professionals and not one got it right. He said he had been giving the demonstration for years and so far only two people had said "no difference". He also said that people thought the red circuit was warmer and the blue circuit was more spacious which agreed with my own perceptions. It was one of the best audio demonstrations I had been to in a long time. I left laughing at myself. I was caught just like all the others.

    A former Rock and Roll Sound Guy

Mathematics deals exclusively with the relations of concepts to each other without consideration of their relation to experience. -- Albert Einstein