5 Optical Illusions That Prove You Can't Trust Your Own Mind

#2. Sight and Recognition Are Two Separate Things

Here's one we know you've seen before. This classic illusion dates back to the 1800s, and depicts an old woman and a young woman at the same time. Can't see it? The young woman's jawline is the old woman's nose, and her ear is the old woman's eye.

But here's the key: Try to see both at the same time. You can't, can you? You can only switch from one to the other, no matter how hard you try.

Goodshoot/Goodshoot/Getty Images
"If you think seeing both is hard, how the hell are you going to raise a child?!"

What the Hell?

This gets right to the heart of the matter: The act of seeing something is different from the act of recognizing it. They're two separate stages along the surprisingly complicated process of actually perceiving. So you never stop seeing the young woman -- she's always there. But you do stop recognizing her after you focus on the old hag. These two processes are so distinct that the "seeing" part and the "recognizing" part are in two different places in your brain.

One part, the visual cortex, handles the job of rendering the image, calculating color, motion, form, and depth. The other part handles the job of recognizing what you're seeing. So, with the image above, your visual cortex maps out the lines on the screen and then passes the paperwork to a different department, which has to then decide, "OK, so what the hell am I looking at?" It's goddamn brain bureaucracy.

Christopher Robbins/Photodisc/Getty
"You're going to need to take that up to the parietal lobe and fill out a visual interpretation requisition 27B-6."

This can lead to some really strange effects. For example, there are people out there who have suffered damage to the visual cortex and are therefore effectively blind. Like, wearing sunglasses in a photographic darkroom with your eyes closed blind. And yet they can still navigate obstacles, react to motion, and recognize facial expressions. Were they all caught in some kind of chemical accident, like Daredevil? No, they just have a condition called blindsight, where their eyes work perfectly well, but they can't form an image of what they're looking at. But their brain is still taking in the visual information, and they're still subconsciously recognizing things like motion and expression.

Have you ever walked down a crowded street and known that a friend was coming from the other way before you actually saw him? Or sensed motion out of the corner of your eye? That's your blindsight working to decode what's going on around you even when you're not paying attention to it. And if that sounds complicated, just wait ...

#1. You Have Many Minds That Your Brain Unifies (by Bullshitting)

R Beau Lotto via BBC

It's almost impossible to believe, but these two tables are the same width and length. One has simply been turned around 90 degrees. Go ahead and measure them if you don't believe us. Go ahead and use a different ruler if you think we cast witchcraft on the first one.

Or, just crop out the top of the left table in Photoshop and plop it down on the right:

R Beau Lotto via BBC
R Beau Lotto via BBC
Bet you feel like an idiot now.

What the Hell?

If you already think it's a bit weird that your brain is free to tell your eyes what they "see," hang on, because it's actually way weirder than that. Your brain has over 30 different sections that deal with different aspects of interpreting visual information, and they each have their own specialized function. Some handle shape, while others handle depth, or color, etc.

The turned tables illusion is just an example of the different parts of your mind disagreeing about what they see -- is it a long thin table, or is it a fat square one? With different parts of your brain putting their own interpretation on it, it's difficult to make up your mind(s).

Keith Brofsky/Photodisc/Getty Images
"Christ, still six votes it's a rubber hose, six votes it's a black mamba. OK, let's hear the hose arguments again."

But hold on a second. If you have multiple mental systems, why do you feel like one person? Why don't you feel like that bickering gang from Herman's Head? Because your brain alters information to make you feel like one person. Seeing two different tables is just the result of your different brain sections coming to a kind of grudging consensus.

And our brains do this all the time. Have you ever jumped because you thought you saw a spider? There was nothing there, but you flipped out anyway. The truth is, you reacted before you even had time to consciously see a spider. Part of your brain, which science refers to as the "HOLY FUCK SPIDER cortex," detected the spider threat and inserted that spider right in your visual frame, even though you'd later discover that it was merely a harmless tuft of your roommate's pubic hair.

Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
All the scientific explanation in the world won't stop your friends from calling you a giant pansy.

The brain may be bullshitting you, but the alternative would be worse. Without its sweet little lies, your consciousness would remain in pieces. Researchers have observed all sorts of brain-damaged individuals who cannot resolve their internal conflicts (or resolve them very poorly). These patients include stroke victims who insist their paralyzed arms are healthy, and even a patient who believes in God in one hemisphere of his brain and not the other.

So don't feel annoyed that your brain makes you see tables weird sometimes. If it didn't find some middle ground, your life would be a schizophrenic nightmare.

For more reasons your brain is totally unreliable, check out The 5 Strangest Ways Your Mind Can Get Your Body Sick and 5 Mind-Blowing Ways Your Memory Plays Tricks On You.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 5 Insane Things Supposedly Seen by the Mars Rover.

And stop by LinkSTORM where everything you'll see isn't real.

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Related Reading: For some optical illusions that absolutely are not photoshopped, click here and prepare to be stunned. If you'd like to know more about how your senses lie to you, read this article and learn how your brain predicts the future. To keep your head messed and confused, try this article and then try to forget about the fact that you spend forty minutes per day completely blind.

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