My husband LOVES optical illusions and I.. well… I have a healthy turn of the century superstitious fear of them.
Haha, okay, so maybe not a full on “it’s witches work and I’m agin em” fear, but I do feel an uncomfortable amount of skepticism and confusion when confronted with phenomena that defies my understanding.
Especially when viewing optical illusions in a magic trick environment, where I feel like I am being “tricked” or there is some kind of slight of hand. For instance, awhile back, my husband and I started watching “Brain Games” a show that was all about optical illusions and visual phenomena. We would watch the show and when they would show an optical illusion like this one where the yellow dots disappear because your brain intentionally makes your eyes go blind, I would think, “They didn’t REALLY disappear! The show just edited them out, not my eyes!”
My husband would insist that my brain did indeed trick me, and I would throw things at the TV and proclaim it to be a dirty rotten liar.
Which is why trolling the interwebs for optical illusions has proven to be such a fun little experience for my family. When I discovered Michael Bach’s Optical Illusions and Visual Phenomena website where you have COMPLETE CONTROL over the illusions to test them and play with them, and discover exactly how the science works, I flipped out. (In a good way!) I actually stopped browsing the website so I could wait for the husband to get home so we could play on the site together, and we spent a fun evening doing just that!
There are lots of fun optical illusion websites out there, and here are a couple of great options to get you started for a fun evening of tricking out your brain. (I suspect this would be a great drinking game / party addition, but I am going alcohol free this year, so I am missing out on all of THAT fun!)
Free Optical Illusion and Visual Phenomena Websites
Michael Bach’s Optical Illusions and Visual Phenomena – This website showcases a great range of well-known to super obscure optical illusions and explains how and why they work.
Interactive Optical Illusions – The site is also wonderfully interactive and often gives buttons that help the user control their experience.
Illusions.org – With more than a hundred illusions and puzzles, this is an excellent resource for exploring optical illusions.
Brain Bashers – This site has 185 illusions and they range from special awareness tricks to 3D type illusions.
Strobe Cool – This site just features one illusion that makes you “hallucinate”. My 4 year old was absolutely fascinated with this one and kept asking to see it again and again.
The Optical Illusions and Their Explanations
I am NOT a science minded person. I mean, I love science, I just have a harder time understanding deep technicalities more than most. I seriously straight up get a headache when I try too hard to “get” science. So while each of these pages has detailed explanations of the optical illusion, my eyes tend to glaze over when the jargon gets really heavy while discussing the scientific principles at work. But when something REALLY stumps my brain, I do appreciate have the “how” available to sate my curiosity!
I especially like that you have full control over the illusions… you can speed them up, slow them down, change colors, zoom in, etc. For example, the Reverse Phi Illusion lets you adjust the delay between frames of a short video of a snowboard, or stop it completely and restart it.
The WIERDEST thing, to me, is that some of these optical illusions don’t work on everybody. There are hints to help with especially tricky visuals, but some people, for unexplained reasons, just CAN’T see certain effects. This actually happened to me while browsing the sites with my husband last night. While checking out this “Pigeon Neck” illusion, I COULD NOT see the pigeons “stepping” as described. I kept trying and trying. Only my husband could see it!
If you’re not able to see an illusion, you shouldn’t interpret this as an indicator that something is wrong with your vision. As the website states:
Don’t let it irk you if you don’t see all the phenomena described. For many illusions, there is a percentage of people with perfectly normal vision who just don’t see it, often for reasons currently unknown.
One really fun one (this one made us laugh pretty hard!) was the “Ghostly Gaze”. I COULD NOT get the eyes to appear to be looking to the side when it was in focus. My husband (who wears glasses) just took his glasses off, and he could see it. But I couldn’t “unfocus” my eyes. So I grabbed his glasses and put them on.. and then I could see it!! The trippy thing is, if I just held the glasses up and looked through them, I could see the face looking AT me from my natural vision AND the face looking away from me through the glasses… it is straight up trippy. You just have to see it to get what I am talking about!!
Anyhoo, you can easily spend a good chunk of time on these websites without even realizing it, even if you are not an optical illusion junkie. The illusions are all fascinating and delightfully (if frustratingly) brainteasing, and they are a lot of fun to explore with your kids and friends.