Month: July 2014

Rare Victorian Trade Card showing pigs playing baseball

Victorian baseball trade card

Victorian baseball trade card

Shown is an 1880s American trade card for the anti-cholera Haas Remedy veterinary medicine, showing the plump and healthy Haas Remedy treated pigs beating the skeletal cholera-infected pigs in a baseball game. The ‘nine’ in the caption was a common old time nickname for baseball teams, with there being 9 players in the starting lineup per team.

Roughly 2/3 the size of postcards and on thin card stock or heavy paper, Victorian trade cards colorfully advertised products ranging from soap to shoes to roofing shingles. They were given out as advertising, but 1800s kids avidly collected them similar to the way modern kids collect trading cards. Victorian kids often pasted trade cards, die cuts, tobacco cards and cutout pictures into scrapbook albums, with many of the albums still found for sale today in antique store, estates sales and auctions.
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Connecting to the Unreal: Art Perception

(Excerpted from the book Noise Music: Cognitive Psychology, Aesthetics and Epsitemology)

Many feel a human-to-human connection to the figure in this Modigliani painting even though it is not physically human in many ways.

Many feel a human-to-human connection to the figure in this Modigliani painting even though it is not physically human in many ways.

Fans feel a connection to cartoon characters, seeing them as if they’re living beings, following their lives, laughing at their jokes, feeling good when good things happen to them and bad when bad things happen. A kid can feel closer to a cartoon character than a living, breathing next door neighbor.

Fans feel a connection to cartoon characters, seeing them as if they’re living beings, following their lives, laughing at their jokes, feeling good when good things happen to them and bad when bad things happen. A kid can feel closer to a cartoon character than a living, breathing next door neighbor.

A complex and fascinating question is why do humans have such strong emotional reactions and human connections to unrealistic art? Why do viewers become scared, even haunted for days, by a movie monster they know doesn’t exist? Why do humans become enthralled by distorted figures and scenes that aren’t realistic? Why do viewers have emotional attachments to comic book characters?

The answer lies in that, while humans know art is human made artifice, they decipher and perceive art using many of the same often nonconscious methods that they use to perceive reality. Looking at how we view reality shows us how we view art, and looking at how we view art helps show us how we interpret reality.

This topic could fill up books, and this short essay here offers just several examples about our art perception. Food for further thought.

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Art perception is irrational
People don’t perceive art, or for that matter reality, on the purely logical, rational or literal levels. Art is designed to communicate psychologically, aesthetically, sensually, viscerally, irrationally, subconsciously. There is nothing logical about instrumental music. The sounds are felt. Beauty and ugliness are psychological experiences. Unreal things, distorted figures, a fictional monster in a movie can strike a visceral chord in us that our normal daily reality can’t. A computer generated science fiction landscape can be perceived as beautiful.

Humans have aesthetic, subconscious reactions to many basic qualities including colors, shapes, angles and balance, whether the qualities are in the real world, dreams or art. These qualities don’t just symbolize feelings and evoke meaning in nature, they symbolize and evoke in abstract art and even your new bathroom design. A black bathroom, or even salt shaker, is consider ‘darker’ than a yellow one.

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Natural cognitive methods for processing information
We interpret art using many of the nonconscious cognitive methods we use in the real world. As described in more detail throughout this book, humans have learned and inborn mental methods, biases and assumptions used to nonconsciously identify things and judge the complex information in our daily lives. We compare side-by-side objects to judge size, distance and speed. We identify distant silhouetted objects by how their shapes match up with our memories. We ‘recognize’ objects and qualities in paintings, sketches and movies using these same nonconscious methods.

Even though the figure in the left painting literally has no legs, we perceive Mona Lisa as a whole person and not as some freakish amputee. This mimics how we automatically perceive as whole a real person standing behind a fence or sitting behind a desk. We naturally and unconsciously  fill in unseen information in our minds.

Even though the figure in the left painting literally has no legs, we perceive Mona Lisa as a whole person and not as some freakish amputee. This mimics how we automatically perceive as whole a real person standing behind a fence or sitting behind a desk. We naturally and unconsciously fill in unseen information in our minds.

In both nature and art, we subjectively pick out figures and patterns in ambiguous and even random information. This includes castles and dragons in clouds and train stations in sketches. These are visual illusions, products of the imagination.

In both nature and art, we subjectively pick out figures and patterns in ambiguous and even random information. This includes castles and dragons in clouds and train stations in sketches. These are visual illusions, products of the imagination.

Using the same visual cues we use in nature, we perceive depth in two dimensional paintings, movies and photographs. Diminishing scale, relative size of objects, overlapping objects, changes in focus and tone indicate depth in both our back yard and in the above 1400s oil painting. The curious thing about perceived depth in paintings, photographs and movies is the artworks are physically flat. The depth is imaginary.

Using the same visual cues we use in nature, we perceive depth in two dimensional paintings, movies and photographs. Diminishing scale, relative size of objects, overlapping objects, changes in focus and tone indicate depth in both our back yard and in the above 1400s oil painting. The curious thing about perceived depth in paintings, photographs and movies is the artworks are physically flat. The depth is imaginary.

Both in real life and when art viewing, humans focus on some information in a scene while being oblivious to other. The audience can get into a movie to a point they forget they are sitting in a theater and watching a projected image showing paid actors seen in earlier movies. This explains why a movie shark can make jump the audience in a desert theater one thousand miles from the nearest ocean.

Both in real life and when art viewing, humans focus on some information in a scene while being oblivious to other. The audience can get into a movie to a point they forget they are sitting in a theater and watching a projected image showing paid actors seen in earlier movies. This explains why a movie shark can make jump the audience in a desert theater one thousand miles from the nearest ocean.

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Symbols.
Symbols are an integral part of the human experience on many levels. A symbol is something that represents something else, something larger. It is a short hand, often to a complex idea. To many, blue at the top of an abstract painting or kid’s sketch represents sky, and green at the bottom represents grass or ground. A gold ring on the finger symbolizes marriage.

Not only can commonly known symbols be used in art to communicate ideas, meaning and mood, but this illustrates how humans don’t need reality to communicate real ideas. Symbols literally aren’t the thing they symbolize.

Literature, this paragraph you are reading, is a long series of symbols. The meaning isn’t in the symbols themselves, but what they evoke in your mind. I couldn’t communicate many of the ideas in this book without these symbols. Someone who doesn’t know the code (English) can’t know what is being written.

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Kids playing 'cowboys and indians'

Kids playing ‘cowboys and indians’

Humans mentally adapt to and accept new and artificial worlds.
Throughout our lives we learn new games, rules, languages, rituals, manners, fashion, ways of thinking. In art, we accept and adopt new musical styles, symbols, genres, conceits, artifices. Through repetition and experience, artistic symbols, conceits and associations become more than convenient intellectual devices. They become ingrained, seem natural.

Our perception of reality is formed by the conceits of art. People around the world perceive the Old West from Hollywood movies, even though historians will tell you those depictions are historically inaccurate. People gain dubious perceptions of faraway places and peoples from sitcoms and action movies.

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Each art medium is limited in what it can show literally.
A painting or sketch doesn’t have physical depth or movement. A silent movie doesn’t have voices even when the people on screen converse. The letters of a novel can’t graphically show a sunrise.

This means a medium must use artificial devices to communicate the literally undepictable. Through exposure, audiences accept the devices, don’t even think twice about them.

Movie subtitles so foreigners can know what is being said.

Movie subtitles so foreigners can know what is being said.

Comic strips use panels to depict the passage of time, and words and bubbles to depict talking.

Comic strips use panels to depict the passage of time, and words and bubbles to depict talking.

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Speculation, play acting, day and night dreams

Kids dressed up

Kids dressed up

All humans speculate about the past, present and future, things that haven’t happen, things could have happened, things that might have happened. People wonder what their life would have be like if they were born in a different family or time and place or with different looks. Someone wonders how the conversation would have gone differently if he hadn’t made that stupid remark. A woman may wonder what dress will go across best at tonight’s party. People ponder when they will die, what their life will be like in the future. People wonder it’s like to visit Iceland or live in Paris. Speculation is an essential part of human intelligence. Great inventions and human achievements arise from speculation.

Humans day dream, play act, dress up as different people, pretend they’re different people, mimic others, act as if they animals to amuse their kids, dress up in costumes for Halloween and masquerade balls, join Civil War recreation clubs, have imaginary in their head conversations, practice speeches before imaginary crowds.

In our sleep we have strange and surreal dreams of impossible situations and lands and scenarios. Dreams can resonate and haunt us deeply. Dreams affect how he think and act in our daily lives.

The surreal situations, fictitious plots, made up characters and distorted figures of art go hand in hand with our normal dreaming, speculation, play acting lives. A novel may have a made up plot and fictions characters, but our daily speculation and day dreams involve similar fiction. Science fiction is often a serious intellectual, if also entertaining, speculation of the future and space. A painting or movie may have a surreal landscape and bizarre characters, but so do our dreams. Much art is about dreams and daydreams.

Salvador Dali said his surreal art was directly influenced by his dreams

Salvador Dali said his surreal art was directly influenced by his dreams

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Humans know and feel there is more than what they see and can comprehend, more than what they experience in their day to day lives. They know people in a society hide their true thoughts and feelings. They know they themselves have feelings and ideas that can’t be put into words. They know there are real concepts they can only imagine about. The unrealistic, the impossible, the surreal, symbolism can evoke that which realistic art and our daily lives don’t. Abstract patterns and wordless music can evoke secret memories, emotions and philosophical ideas that a photograph or neighborly chat cannot.

A 'photorealistic' snapshot of a posed family can reveal little about what the subjects really think and feel, while an expressionist painting can tell a lot. In fact, expressionism intended to express psychological reality rather than physical reality. The artists believed both couldn't shown at the same time.

A ‘photorealistic’ snapshot of a posed family can reveal little about what the subjects really think and feel, while an expressionist painting can tell a lot. In fact, expressionism intended to express psychological reality rather than physical reality. The artists believed both couldn’t shown at the same time.

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Little Mermaid

I’ve never seen Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid,’ but somehow assume it doesn’t follow the original Hans Christian Anderson storyline where the Little Mermaid can, as she has always dreamed, leave her life in the sea to become human and have a human soul, but to do so “it will constantly feel as if she is walking on sharp knives and feel as though she is bleeding.”

Notes on Invisibility

Invisibility means something is, well, not visible. While invisibility is often associated with science fictionon, fantasy and horror, objects are often invisible under normal, mundane circumstances. Objects can be hidden from view because they are behind other objects, too small or too far away to see or obscured by dark or fog.

Speaking more science fictiony, there are different theortical and in practice ways to make objects invisible. They use physics, human physiology and psychology.

Glass objects are transparent, though rarely perfectly and can usually be seen

Glass objects are transparent, though rarely perfectly and can usually be seen

Tranparency
One physical way, and the way most people think of as invisible, is to make something transparent. Transparent means light passes directly through the object. There are natural and human made transparent things. Transparent objects includes glass, plastics, water, cellophane and jellyfish. Almost nothing is 100% transparent though. If you walk into a glass door, it’s usually because you aren’t paying close attention.

It should be noted that if you were completely transparent you’d be blind, because to see the eyes must absorb (retain) light (the opposite of transparent). It’s also interesting to note that vampires in movies are sometimes shown as invisible except for their eyes.

Bending light
Another way to make an object invisible is to bend light around it. Mirages give an idea how this can be done. In the heat of the desert, light can be bent unusually to make the sky appear to be a pool of water in the desert or a road. The mirage doesn’t involve the item being hidden, but ‘moved’ to an unexpected place. Funhouse mirrors also show how light can be bent to distort and hide objects from view. Looking at yourself in a funhouse mirror, your head can suddenly disappear.

The light bent heat doesn't make the sky disappear but does put in in an unusual place.

The light bent heat doesn’t make the sky disappear but does put in in an unusual place.

There are actual but very early stages ways to make objects invisible by bending light around the objects. Manufactured materials can bend light to make an object disappear from view. These technologies are being developed by the military and university labs.

Funhouse mirrors demonstrate how light can be bent and sometimes hide things from view.

Funhouse mirrors demonstrate how light can be bent and sometimes hide things from view.

Obstructing the views
Many items are made invisible by obstructing the viewer’s view. Turning off the lights or standing in front of an objects are two examples. Bright glare in the viewer’s eyes objects view. War planes electronically ‘jam’ radars. During World War II, airplanes dropped small metal ribbons to disrupt radar.

Night goggles allow one to see what is hidden in the dark

Night goggles allow one to see what is hidden in the dark

Invisibility usually happens only at one level
When something is made invisible, it is usually invisible at only one frequency of light. It can be seen at other frequencies. A soldier hidden by the shroud of night can be seen with night goggles that detect infrared light. Our bones inside our bodies are hidden from normal view, but are clearly seen under x-rays. A jet fighter can make it invisible to radar, but can be clearly seen with the naked eyes. In horror movies, the invisible man can often be detected via sound, smell, the appearance of footsteps of things moving around.

Invisibility due to human psychology and physiology
Objects in plain sight can go consciously unseen by humans. This can by due to the human optic system and due to human psychology.

Blind spots
All humans have blind spots, which are spots where the eye cannot see. The blind spot in an eye corresponds to the spot on the retina where the optical nerve connects the retina to the brain. At this spot there are no light detecting cells and, thus, this spot cannot detect light. A small object can disappear from view at the spot.

In everyday life the blind spot goes unnoticed. This is in part as the eye is constantly looking around, getting a wide and varied range of views. It is also in part as the brain uses the information from both eyes to create the single mental vision. What one eye misses, the other often picks up.

As its optical nerve connects differently, the octopus has no blind spot.

Detecting your blind spot
To detect your blind spot using the above red dot/green dot picture on the next page, close your right eye and look at the GREEN dot. Slowly move your head towards the picture. At one point the RED dot will disappear. Notice that the missing spot is filled in white by your mind, so it appears as if nothing is missing from your view. This illustrates how your blind spot goes unnoticed during daily living. Many people live their entire life not knowing they have a blind spot.

blindspotimage006

Color blindness tests show that objects of certain colors can hide from view from those with limited color vision. People with poor color vision cannot make out the letter or number symbols that those with good color vision can see. This is a form of camouflage.

Whether this visible or invisible depends of your color vision.  The number is invisible to some.

Whether this visible or invisible depends of your color vision. The number is invisible to some.

Camouflage
Camouglage involves making things that are visible hard to distinguish from its surroundings. The viewer can see the object– it registers and is often in focus in the eyes and mind–, but does notice it consciously. The camouflaged object hides in plain view.

A new book will be noticed if placed in the middle of the floor or the kitchen table, but will go unnoticed if slipped amongst other books on a book shelf. The viewer sees the book– it registers in the eyes and brain–, but the viewer doesn’t consciously notice it.

With a chameleon standing in front of a rock of the same color, you can see all the same details as when the chameleon is standing in front of a white sheet. It’s just that against the rock, you lose contrast and cannot consciously identify it.

Camouflaged frog

Camouflaged frog

This insect can both be seen yet be unnoticed.

This insect can both be seen yet be unnoticed.

Can you the hidden text in this picture?

Can you the hidden text in this picture?

Psychology
Many things are overlooked because they don’t meet expectations. As with camouflage, things can be hidden in plain view.

A human does not and cannot simultaneously focus on all information in a scene. Humans don’t have the mental capacity. Humans focus on some things and ignore others.

When you enter a room, your eyes are drawn to something or things. Perhaps you focus on the gracious hosts, perhaps a statue to the side. If there is a rat in the middle of the floor, your immediate perception will be of the rat and not of the rose wallpaper.

If you enter the room and there is an attractive nude, you likely won’t notice what is on the coffee table. You might not even notice the coffee table. After blushingly excusing yourself and scooting out of the room, you may not recall the existence of a coffee table, but it was there right in front of your eyes.

Read this text.  Then look at it again.  Did you skip over the second 'the'?

Read this text. Then look at it again. Did you skip over the second ‘the’?

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Are Standard Physical Measurements Intrinsic to Objects or Merely Arbitrary Human Conceptions?

Mout Everest is the tallest mountain on earth, but what So What?

Mout Everest is the tallest mountain on earth, but So What?

Many standard physical measurements such as height and volume are human conceptions. There are a nearing infinite ways to measure water and land objects. None are intrinsically better or lesser than the other possible measurements. Picking the ‘best’ measuring method for water is like picking the most accurate identity in a cloud— you might see a castle in the design of cloud, while your friend might see a princess.

Is out concept of time a universal absolute thing or merely a human construct?

Is out concept of time a universal absolute thing or merely a human construct?

For easy understanding and practical convenience humans chose volume as the key measure of water, height as a key measure of trees and weight as a key measure of rocks. Most lay humans and even scientists see volume as something intrinsic to liquid, but it’s just an idiosyncratic humans conception. Volume as a measurement has as much to do with the way the human mind operates as it does to do with orange juice. Just as your friend seeing a princess in the cloud is more a reflection of your friend than the cloud.

Humans have developed a great bias towards their pet measuring methods, treating them as the gold standard. There’s nothing wrong with having convenient measuring methods, but the gold standard status sometimes leads to interesting results.

Temperature is just one way to measure a chicken

Temperature: A very human way of measuring a chicken

Take mountains for example. The number one way to measure a mountain of course its it’s height. The Guinness Book of World’s Records doesn’t have entries for the heaviest mountain or the bluest or the smoothest. They list the tallest and the highest. No one cares which mountain is the bluest.

It should be of no surprise that special attention is given to Mt. Everest, the tallest and highest mountain. Amongst the general public, the apex of mountain climbing is scaling Mt. Everest. Most just assume its also the most difficult to scale. Expert climbers will tell you that K2 is significantly more difficult to climb due to the angles and remoteness. However, K2 doesn’t have the formidable reputation with the public as it’s only the second tallest mountain. To the public, tallest means toughest to climb.

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Notice how the mainstream press measures motion pictures. They rank them by their box-office sales, something that that has little to do with art. They measure art as business transactions.

What is humorous about box office receipts as measurement of art is that the viewers purchase the ticket before they see the movie. Many people buy a ticket, then hate the movie.

Of course, CNN and NBC use box office receipts as measurement as they are convenient, seemingly concrete. They have a financial section staff that knows how to deal with financial statements. Objectively measuring and ranking by artistic merit would be great, but no one knows how to do that.

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Assorted interesting measuring tidbits:

* You likely find it easier to judge the length of a pole if it vertical or horizontal than at an unorthodox angle. If the pole is at 73 degree angle, you might tilt your head to judge its length.

* There are problems in communication between folks who measure in Celsius versus Fahrenheit, yards versus millimeters. An American may find it hard to impossible to conceptualize temperatures quoted in degree Celsius.

* Scientists have yet to find the perfect way to represent light. In some ways light is like a wave, but in others it is like particles. These conceptions conflict.

* Meteorologists added wind chill factor and humidity to their descriptive repertoire, as they found temperature alone was unable to accurately describe conditions.

* Measuring can change the subject being measured. Methods of measuring running computer programs can slow or otherwise alter the program. In nuclear physics, measuring the location of an atomic particle change’s the particle’s speed. Runners run a shorter mile since the Olympics switched to metric.

* Measurements are never exact. There always is a margin of error.

* We can order and categorize information for our purposes, but not beyond that. We don’t know how things are ordered beyond our us.

* There have long been philosophical arguments about the nature of time. Isaac Newton said time was an intrinsic physical thing on the order of height or weight, while Gottfried Libniz said time, at least as we conceive it, is just a human construct to describe what we observe. Einstein’s centuries later Theory of Relativity showed that time doesn’t always act as absolutely as Newton thought.

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Dies Irae : From Rachmaninoff to Melvins

This simple but haunting melody dates back centuries to a Gregorian Chant about the final judgment and has been used many times since, including by Rachmaninoff (Rhapsody on a Them of Paganini), Berlioz, Verdi (Requiem), Mozart and Wendy Carlos for the introductary music to The Shining. Even the grunge/sludge metal band Melvins has their own rendition. I recommend searching on Youtube for Carlos’ and Melvins’ versions.

CAPTCHAs: How Computers Use Cognitive Science to Identify Users as Human

captcha-selection1We’ve all had been asked to type in the letters and numbers in those funky pictures on websites, such as pictured to the right. These pictures are called CAPTCHAs and are used to try to identify if a visitor to a website is human or computer program. Online banks, stores, news sites, chat boards and other sites want to weed out automated programs that try to steal information and spam message boards. The question you may have is how do these pictures identify a user as human.

exemplesCAPTCHAs are designed around human psychology. Specifically they are designed on the human’s natural ability to guess at or pick out identities in ambiguous information.

The letters and numbers in the CAPTCHAs aren’t literally the letters and numbers, but abbreviated, mixed up, distorted versions, often with other information (visual noise) overlapping and/or surrounding it.

When told to pick out the symbols, the human picks out which letters and numbers they perceive. The symbols don’t perfectly match the textbook letters and numbers, but the human guesses what they most approximate. Computers can eventually, or at least sometimes, identify the symbols but it takes longer. They have more difficulty with the ambiguous, messy and mixed up images.

Humans can perceive different individual letters in this CAPTCHA, but it's really just one connected graphic.  Computers have a more difficult time picking out individual letters, not only because they are connected but because the letters themselves are distorted.

Humans can make out different individual letters in this CAPTCHA, but it’s really just one connected graphic.

This CAPTCHA tilts the symbols and places them on a background, both which make it harder for a computer program to read.

This CAPTCHA tilts the symbols and places them on a background, both which make it harder for a computer program to read.

If a computer program gets too good at solving CAPTCHAs, the CAPTCHAs can be made more difficult by distorting the letters more and adding more visual noise– but it is hoped not so difficult that they fool humans. CAPTCHAs also come in a wide variety of forms– shapes, angels, different backgrounds, colors and more– making it so a nefarious program can’t apply one cookie cutter rule.

The Human Psychology Behind CAPTCHAs
Humans live in an environment that is filled with complex, ambiguous and distorted information. Humans have learned and inborn mental methods to nonconsciously identify things and judge the complex information in our daily lives. We compare side-by-side objects to judge size, distance and speed. We identify distant silhouetted objects by how their shapes match up with our memories. We ‘recognize’ objects and qualities in paintings, sketches and movies using these same nonconscious methods.

Realize that humans never see the entirety of an object or scene, any object or scene. Not only are things such as coffee cups and sticks and tree branches partially visibly obscured by overlapping other objects, but we can never see all sides and parts of an object at once. Even with an apple you’ve turned over in your hands, you can’t be sure whether it’s fresh or rotten in the core until you bite or cut it apart. Humans live, learn and learn how to process and judge information in an environment where information is always obscured or otherwise hidden from view.

Ambiguity is a concept essential to understanding humans, as humans constantly make choices in the face of ambiguous information. Often caused by missing or obscured information, ambiguity means there is more than one possible explanation to something, and the viewer doesn’t know, often can’t know, which one is correct. In the face of ambiguity, the mind will almost always pick the explanation that meets its expectations and experience.

CAPTCHAs are examples of ambiguous information where we guess what is the identity.

The following is a closer look at some of the specific cognitive techniques we use to process ambiguous information, both in nature and in CAPTCHAs.


Shape, patterns and form biases

bias1

Human visual perception is profoundly influenced by biases about forms, shapes and patterns. Humans have ingrained and nonconscious attractions for specific forms, shapes and patterns. Some of these biases are genetic, while others are learned. These biases greatly influence how we perceive, organize and label, and are essential to the quick identifications needed to go through life.

You instantly perceived a dog in the black shape that started this chapter, even though the shape lacked fur, eyes, whiskers, correct size and other essential doggy details. You didn’t have to contemplate the shape. You perceived it instantly.

The problem for humans is that their biases for certain shapes, forms and patterns are so strong and ingrained that they will perceive these things when don’t objectively exist. These biases lead to many visual illusions.

Our form and pattern biases are shown when we perceive horses or castles or hot rods or other familiar shapes in clouds. These ‘identifications’ are subjective to the viewer, and do not objectively exist in cloud. There are thousands of possible connect-the-dot shapes in a cloud, but you perceive, or mentally pick out, that which matches your knowledge. The horse or castle is a projection of what exists in your mind. If there were no horses on earth or in fantasy books, you would not perceive a horse in the cloud, as you wouldn’t ‘recognize’ it.

Technically, our perception of letters and numbers in CAPTCHAs is visual illusion, because they aren’t exact representations of those symbols.

Many see the figure of a lion cub in this cloud

Many see the figure of a lion cub in this cloud

People mentally assemble the lines and marks in this Rembrandt etching into a face

People mentally assemble the lines and marks in this Rembrandt etching into a face

As with the sketch and cloud, we pick out recognizable figures amongst the myriad of information.

As with the sketch and cloud, we pick out recognizable figures amongst the myriad of information.

Imagination
When looking at a scene, all humans have the natural and nonconscious ability to extrapolate beyond what is visible. When information is missing, or assumed to be missing, humans make it up in their minds.

This ability is essential to normal living, as we must regularly make quick guesses with limited information. When you step on a sturdy looking building step, you assume it will hold your weight. When you pull a book from the library shelf, you assume the pages are filled with words. When your waitress brings you a steaming mug, you assume it is filled with a hot liquid.

In many cases the extrapolation is accurate, or at least a fair estimate of reality. If your dog is standing on the other side of the open doorway, half hidden by the wall, you correctly assume an entire dog exists. As the dog steps forward into the room, your assumption is proven correct. When the waitress puts down your steaming coffee mug, you are far from surprised to see it’s filled with the hot coffee you ordered. Humans would be a dim, slow species if we couldn’t make these kinds of elemental deductions.

In many cases, however, the extrapolations are wrong. These bogus extrapolations involving the viewer non-consciously perceiving what he wants to see or expects to see.

Though the overlapping prevents us from knowing, most will assume the above picture shows whole playing cards. I assume the cards are rectangular and whole.

Though the overlapping prevents us from knowing, most will assume the above picture shows whole playing cards. I assume the cards are rectangular and whole.

This says 'I love you' many times

This says ‘I love you’ many times

Now read it with the ruler removed.  Your earlier reading was based on assumption.

Now read it with the ruler removed. Your earlier reading was based on assumption.

Similar to the overlapping cards and 'I Love You' pictures, we imagine this word 'behind' the line to be whole letters.

Similar to the overlapping cards and ‘I Love You’ pictures, we imagine, or guess, there to be whole letters behind the line.

With all the 'overlapping' information, it takes imagination to guess the symbols.

With all the ‘overlapping’ information, it takes imagination to guess the symbols.

Focusing and ignoring
Both in real life and when art and CAPTCHA viewing, humans focus on some information in a scene while being oblivious to other. The audience can get into a movie to a point they forget they are sitting in a theater and watching a projected image showing paid actors seen in earlier movies. This explains why a movie shark can make jump the audience in a desert theater one thousand miles from the nearest ocean. Someone get into a book or music he forgets where he is.

A human does not and cannot simultaneously focus on all information in a scene. Humans don’t have the mental capacity. Humans focus on some things and ignore others. When you enter a room, your eyes are drawn to something or things. Perhaps you focus on the gracious hosts, perhaps a statue to the side. If there is a rat in the middle of the floor, your immediate perception will be of the rat and not of the rose wallpaper.

If you enter the room and there is an attractive nude, you likely won’t notice what is on the coffee table. You might not even notice the coffee table. After blushingly excusing yourself and scooting out of the room, you may not recall the existence of a coffee table, but it was there right in front of your eyes.

This focus, and the resulting perception, is your creation.

With this visual illusion, the viewer forms a perception about the whole from looking at just one end. When she looks at the rest of the graphic she realizes her extrapolation, or initial perception of the whole, was wrong. All of the information is there for the eyes to see, but the viewer forms her perception as if information is hidden.

This visual illusion involves both focusing and ignoring, and imagination. The viewer forms a perception about the whole from looking at just one end. When she looks at the rest of the graphic she realizes her extrapolation, or initial perception of the whole, was wrong.

When you label this picture as 'a fox' you both ignore or 'bleep over' the marks around the fox design and the fact that it has no front legs.

When you label this picture as ‘a fox’ you both ignore or ‘bleep over’ the marks around the fox design and the fact that it has no front legs. The fox label involves human imagination and a choice how the marks fit together, which matter and which don’t to identity. Of course, this isn’t a real fox, but a bunch of pen marks that you subjectively assemble into a fox.

As in the 'fox' picture, you simply ignore the marks around the symbols, as if they don't exist.

You simply ignore the marks around the symbols, as if they don’t exist. The computer has a harder time ignoring the marks.

Getting back to CAPTCHAs
As already mentioned, CAPTCHAs aren’t fool proof and internet bad guys are continually trying to break CAPTCHAs. In fact, computer programs can solve CAPTCHAs. It is just that it usualy takes longer and with less accuracy that with humans. Bad guys also hire humans to solve the CAPTCHAs. They literally have a room full of low paid humans in India or wherever solving the puzzles. Websites usually use CAPTCHA’s as one of numerous ways to block hackers and spammers. Passwords, monitoring message language and other puzzles to solve are also often used. It’s a never ending taste to keep websites safe and CAPTCHAs is just one tool.