The Best Illusion of the Year 2014 Award

By Anupum Pant

You probably know the static Ebbinghaus illusion – where a circle appears bigger around smaller circles even when it is of the same size. It’s static because it works without moving. Well, if you don’t know, you should because it helps you lose weight in a very subtle manner.

A slight variation involving movement of the Ebbinghaus illusion won the best illusion award for the year 2014. Yes, there are annual awards for the best illusions (I never knew that!). This one which won the award was submitted by researchers from the University of Nevada Reno.

The new variation is called the Dynamic Ebbinghaus effect. This is what happens in it…

 best illusion animation

There’s an arrangement of circles, exactly like the Ebbinghaus illusion, but there’s just one of the sets from the static illusion discussed above. While this arrangement of circles move, the central circle remains of the same size and the surrounding circles change in size.

Now, if you look into the central circle, you’ll see that it changes size too. In reality, it doesn’t. This effect is weaker when you look directly into the central circle. To make it more pronounced, you can shift your focus to the side and look at it through your peripheral vision. It’s totally mesmerizing. No wonder it won.

It works even when you  know about it.

Eyes of the Mantis Shrimp – Colours and Hexnocular Vision

By Anupum Pant

Of course there’s a lot of other things to talk about the Mantis Shrimp. But today, I’m going to only talk about its eyes.


The eyes of a Mantis Shrimp are one of the most advanced eyes on the planet. To realize how extraordinary their colour vision is, you need to have some perspective on what we are talking about.

Colour is just a trick of our mind. What we see is really out there, there’s no way to know for sure if it is the reality. Or, there’s no way for us to explain what we really see.

For instance, imagine how we see the world, say particularly, the colour red and all its derived colours. Now, what you see is very different from how a colour blind person or a dog sees it. Dogs and about 10% of men who are colour blind can’t see colours like we do. That is because, instead of 3 cones (red, blue and green sensitive ones), they just have two. If you and a dog would point their eyes towards the same rainbow, both of you would see a very different image (if you are not colour blind).

A dog probably would see a rainbow which would start with a blue colour and then there’d be green in it for a dog. Nothing else. That is because it has no red sensitive cones. A single difference in the number of types cones can make such a huge difference in the colour vision. Addition of the single red sensitive cone enables us to see a whole set of new colours.

Some women (estimated to be about 2-3%of the world’s population!) have a super-human ability that makes them able to see a whole set of new colours. Like we see a million different colours, these women can probably see 100 Million different colours. It’s hard to imagine what they really see. Probably that is why they say men are so bad at colours.

Similarly, consider a butterfly. They have 5-6 different kinds of cone receptors. So, when they look at a rainbow, they probably see a range of colours between the blues and the greens and the greens and the yellows. Of course, it can also see an ultraviolet beyond the violet. Incredible enough.

mantis colour range

The Mantis Shrimp, an animal of the size of your finger, has one of the most amazing colour visions. It has 16 different types of cones. You can’t even start to imagine how the world looks to them. And suppose they try and see a rainbow, they’d see a really rich set of colours. No other animals we know have even a visual system that is half as advanced.  There’s no reason they must have this ability.16 is just too many cones!

Needless to say, these technological marvels can see ultra-violet light, infra-red light, and some can even see polarised light.

Hexnocular vision


Now, we see with our two eyes and call it a binocular vision. We have 2 eyes and 1 focal point each. So, to see in 3-D, we need both out eyes.

Mantis Shrimp, however, has 2 eyes with 3 focal points each. Each of its eye is divided into 3 sections and can see 3 different images, using the 3 different sections. It doesn’t need 2 eyes to see in 3-D. One is enough. Besides that, it is able to judge depth much better than we are able to do it. Think of an image stitched out of 6 different eyes.

Seeing With Your Tongue and Listening to Colour

By Anupum Pant

I’m always fascinated when I see one sense organ do the work of some other sense organ. Like breathing from your eyes ( not really) or seeing with your ears (really) listening to colours etc…

not available in your country

Solving The Technical Problem (Not available in your country): Today, I stumbled upon a video whose title was “Blind Learn To See With Tongue“. It was uploaded on YouTube by CBS – an American TV network. The sad part is that they had tweaked the videos settings which did not allow me to watch it. It wasn’t available in India.

Whenever someone says I can’t do something, I’m almost always prepared for it. This time, I had this extension installed on Chrome called ZenMate. It’s perfectly legal (available on chrome store) and works very smoothly. It allows you to surf the internet with total control. With it installed, you can totally forget about your physical location and fool the websites which place a location restriction for access, like Spotify and Youtube’s “not available in your location” videos. I haven’t tried other things but it should allow Indians to access stuff from websites like Hulu, Pandora and Netflix. (Even if it may seem out of place, I wasn’t paid by ZenMate to write this. I really recommend it.)

The Customary David Eagleman talk

Now, whenever I come across something that has to do with seeing things with an organ that is not really meant for seeing, I remember this very-old TED talk by David Eagleman. And I like to attach it to my blog because I can’t really explain this amazing ability of the Human brain as well as he does. He basically segues his talk to discuss how brain can learn to interpret various kinds of signals to produce an image. So, here it goes. Watch it and read on…

Since it is clear that seeing is the ability of the brain, not eyes, we can comfortably move on to see how you could even see with your tongue – Tasting the light.

Seeing with the Tongue

A device called BrainPort can help you do that. The contraption consists of a camera that sits on your forehead and sends information to a small computer. The information is processed, converted into electrical pulses, and then sent to an array of electrodes touching your tongue. The brain processes these signals and converts them into an image.

At first, of course the brain doesn’t know the trick to process visual signal from the tongue, but it learns. Gradually the device becomes a part of your body and you start seeing with your tongue! Just like Neil Harbisson can listen to colour. In fact, he can see more colours than our eyes can see because the technology allows him. He can see infrared and ultraviolet too!

Listening to Colour – TED talk

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