cognitive psychology

Uncorrectable illusions

Click on the below images to get larger views”

If you stare at this image, you will see movement where there is none.

If you stare at this image, you will see movement where there is none.

Squares A and B are the same color.  If you print out this picture and cut it apart you will see this yourself.

Squares A and B are the same color. If you print out this picture and cut it apart you will see this yourself.

The gray bar is one tone.  It is the changing background that makes it appear to change in tone.  Cover up the background to prove this to yourself.

The gray bar is one tone. It is the changing background that makes it appear to change in tone. Cover up the background to prove this to yourself.

Even after you learn how they work, there are many visual illusions that still fool you. If you returned and look again at the visual illusions shown and explained above, many will still fool your eyes.

The mind contains compartments that perform specific tasks. For example, one compartment is used for comprehending spoken language, another for perceiving smell. Some of these compartments are isolated from other parts of the brain. They work on their own, not influenced by goings on elsewhere. These compartments sometimes are even isolated from conscious knowledge.

The perception of many visual illusions is made independent of your conscious knowledge. This explains why even your conscious knowledge that they are illusions doesn’t solve your nonconscious misperception.

Cognitive Psychology: Perceptions and Visual Illusions via Imagination

When looking at a scene or graphic, all humans have the natural and subconscious ability to extrapolate beyond what is visible. In other words, when information is hidden or assumed to be hidden, humans make it up in their minds.

This ability to mentally extrapolate beyond the known is essential to normal living. We 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 coffee mug, you assume it is filled with a hot liquid.

In many cases this 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 that an entire dog exists. As the dog steps foreword 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 species if we couldn’t make these kinds elemental deductions.

In many cases, however, the extrapolations are wrong. Though we perceive them to be real, the are nothing more than make believe. Many of these bogus extrapolations involving the viewer subconsciously seeing what he wants to see or expects to see. Sometimes these errors in thought are corrected (“Oh, the cup is filled with tea, not the coffee I asked for”). Often times the error in extrapolation is never corrected, and the misperception exists throughout the person’s life.

The following are examples of correct and incorrect perceptions based on extrapolating beyond what is seen.

Though the dogs block the view, we assume there is snow behind them like the snow we see surrounding them.

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.

The below says “I Love You” multiple times:

Now read the same printed text below with the ruler removed:


In the above, most perceive a cube behind the three diagonal bands

With the bands removed, we perceive something different.

Many perceive a white triangle here, even though there isn’t one.

Is it three bars or a horse shoe?

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. Unlike the other pictures in this chapter, there is no missing information. All of the information is there for the eyes to see, but the viewer forms her perception as if information is hidden.

A Few Notes on Artificial Intelligence

artificial owl in the film Blade Runner

artificial owl in the film Blade Runner

No matter how advanced it gets and what form(s) it takes, artificial intelligence will have the same types of philosophic and cognitive limits, margins of error, paradoxes, irreconcilable conflicts, catch-22s and unanswerable questions as the human mind.  (Several examples are shown here: how humans use false information and made up beliefs to produce personal achievementshape and form biases, imagination, logic versus art, grouping, subjective perceptions, physiology of seeing, fiction in scientific models.)

As with humans, it will be making educated probability guesses from limited and ambiguous information, using limited and often conflicting cognitive methods. To function practically and speedily and to process the vast amount of information it receives, AI needs rules of thumb, categories, language and pattern templates. This means it will have pattern and form biases, arbitrary choices, subjective value judgments, form and language biases. The perceptions and judgments it derives will have oversimplifications, conceits, distortions and illusions. And as with humans, it will never be able to know the exact reliability of its own mind (see Measuring the Reliability of the Human Mind).

The idea of a machine of being super smart and knowing more than humans is plausible, but one that can objectively process and understand all of the information of eternity and reality is just a science fiction fantasy.

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As artificial intelligence advances, humans will cede some and perhaps eventually all power. With high-speed computers crunching numbers and robotics doing tasks for us, we already defer to computers in areas. If artificial intelligence ever becomes far more intelligent than humans, many of the answers and ideas it finds will be beyond human comprehension and translation, at least current humans.

Developing artificial intelligence could be the christening of a boat that eventually leaves humans behind. Being the self-centered creatures that they are, this idea does not sit well with many humans. If the choice is between finding truth and self-preservation, most humans choose self-preservation. Even if artificial intelligence becomes far more intelligent, knowledgeable and ever develops a higher than human consciousness, humans still want to be the master. Humans would rather be the captain of a less advanced system than a cog in a more advanced system.

Many will say that if finding the truth of the universe is an impossible task, even for AI, perhaps we should give up the ghost and use AI to build better video games and garage door openers.

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Before you get too scared, realize that AI is just in its infancy and, while there are some things AI can do currently better than humans, there are human things that scientists can only currently aspire to achieve with AI. These include consciousness, common sense, educated intuition and the human ability to learn. When a learned art expert looks at a painting and knows right away it’s a fake (and is right), that is something far beyond what current Artificial Intelligence can do.

University of Louisiana-Lafayette professor István Berkeley explained human common sense (and computer’s lack of it) as follows:

For most people, if they know that President Clinton is in Washington, then they also know that President Clinton’s right knee is also in Washington. This may seem like a trivial fact, and indeed it is for humans, but it is not trivial when it comes to AI systems. In fact, this is an instance of what has come to be known as ‘The Common Sense Knowledge Problem’. A computational system only knows what it has been explicitly told. No matter what the capacities of a computational system, if that system knows that President Clinton was in Washington, but doesn’t know that his left knee is there too, then the system will not appear to be too clever. Of course, it is perfectly possible to tell a computer that if a person is in one place, then their left knee is in the same place, but this is only the beginning of the problem. There are a huge number of similar facts which would also need to be programmed in. For example, we also know that if President Clinton is in Washington, then his hair is also in Washington, his lips are in Washington and so on. The difficulty, from the perspective of AI, is to find a way to capture all these facts. (source)

Even if it happens, AI having super intelligence and human-like consciousness, intuition and psychology is something for the far distant future.

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Scientists are trying to get AI to learn and expand its knowledge base and capabilities on its own, and some imagine the time when AI can increase its knowledge so quickly that it surpasses humans in intelligence. Whether this would be for the good or ill of the human race is the big question. Some humans worry if there will be a day when AI will be super intelligent and no longer need humans or feel humans have gotten in the way of more important missions, such as the search for truth.  Some fear situations such as if humans in the future tell highly advanced AI to save the earth and its life and AI decides that “The first thing to do is kill all humans.”

Reflection of a human crew member in HAL 9000's eye

Reflection of a human crew member in HAL 9000’s eye

2001: A Space Odyssey’s Hal 9000 was a super intelligent computer with consciousness that tried to kill all the humans on the ship when it felt they were getting in the way of the larger mission. Human moviegoers being human catalog Hal 9000 as an antagonist and the American Film Institute listed him as number 13 on its list of film villains, but Hal was sure he was doing the correct thing. Humans prioritize human self-preservation above searching for the truth, but Hal prioritized searching for truth. Putting aside your hard-wired self-centered human bias, was Hal wrong in prioritizing the search for truth over the handful of humans?

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For the movie 2001, Stanley Kubrick consulted with famed M.I.T. AI pioneer Marvin Minsky. Minsky’s predictions to Kubrick about what artificial intelligence could and could not do by the year 2001 were correct, while the movie’s weren’t. Minsky thought computers would be able to talk, but not in the advanced conscious way HAL does.

It just goes to show you that you shouldn’t rely on sci-fi movies and television shows as gospel. Many scientist’s AI date predictions have been far off. Stanley Kubrick may have picked 2001 because it had a catchy “In the not too distant future” sound for a movie title.

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For the near and likely long-term future, advancements will involve humans and computers working together. Computers do some things better than humans and humans do something better than computers, so combining the forces is best.

This kind of combining of forces is nothing new. Humans have long used technology to improve their abilities, understanding and awareness. People use eyeglasses, binoculars, microscopes and infrared viewers to increase their knowledge and understanding of themselves and their environment. Computers now and in the future do high-speed calculations that give us answers and process information insights that we couldn’t do on our own. Technology expands humans’ minds.

Even if AI someday becomes dominant, it would likely still consider many human perceptions (intuition, instant gut reactions, human aesthetics) to be useful, if perhaps primitive, inputs into its system.

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Artificial intelligence scientists often say the human mind is a quasi-computer (if a biological one), as it takes in and processes information using calculations to come up with an output answer. They say our subconscious intuition and gut reactions are just probability processing systems based on massive archives of subconscious information and experience. Many computer scientists use probability equations to mimic how humans think.

Some philosophers and scientists explicitly ask ‘Is the human mind a computer?’ Some will say if for all practical intents and purposes it acts like one, then for all intents and purposes it is.

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Many say cognitive science and artificial science go hand in hand, and in fact, the previously mentioned Marvin Minsky worked in both areas. You study the human brain to get ideas about and design artificial intelligence and designing artificial intelligence tells us much about the human brain.

Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie Blade Runner poignantly uses androids to study what it is to be human. The androids are human-like robots but with shortened indeterminate life spans. One of androids. played by Sean Young, believes she is human, and is heartbroken when she learns her secret childhood memories are merely an implant of the memories of the inventor’s niece’s.

Sean Young in Blade Runner

Sean Young as an android in Blade Runner

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Though it’s human nature (and a cognitive bias) to want a single ‘unifying theory,’ in practice AI scientist have discovered that different parts of a robot or artificial brain systems often require different methods to work. The program to process data can be decidedly different than the code to make a robot’s hand clasp. Further, there are different and sometimes competing methods, language and logic to process the same information and work in the same areas. One works better in one way, and other works better in another way.

While this often frustrates AI scents, this mirrors the way the human mind works. The article Logic Versus Art in Expressing Advanced Ideas showed how humans have competing and often irreconcilable ways to analyze and express something. ‘Uncorrectable Illusions’ shows how compartments in the brain word independent of each other and even independent of the conscious mind.

While these conflicts and differences of opinion lead to many of our illusions, delusions and unsolvable questions, they also work as a sort of checks and balances and, if balanced well, lead to more intelligent and accurate judgments.

When you enter a new, ambiguous scene your subconscious intuition gives you a quick judgment as what is going on. The gut reaction may or may not be correct. You then use your conscious logic to judge the accuracy of your gut reaction. You may even move about the scene, inspect the scene further to test your logic. These different methods are working together. And, as you are a human that naturally learns and adds more experiences and knowledge to your mind as you go along , you broaden your intuitive accuracy and knowledge. A mirage originally fooled you, but with knowledge and experience, the same mirage may still ‘trick your eyes’ but you now are no longer fooled by it. You know that ‘water in the road’ is just a trick of the light.

Further, while your biased-based gut reactions have a substantial margin of error, they are needed and used for instant reactions. Conscious logic mulling may be more accurate but takes time. When a boulder is rolling at you, your gut reaction tells you to get out the way. Worry about logical theory later on, after you’ve jumped out of the way of the boulder.

This should demonstrate how the additional AI sensory inputs and information processing methods and viewpoints would help humans.

For complex processing of vast amounts of data, artificial intelligence programs need categories, prioritizing and starting points, and scientists have found that human gut reactions and subjective choices are useful for this. The computer program’s processing and analyzing will move beyond these human points, but finds them quite useful.

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Two standard philosophy of AI questions are if AI can have human-like intelligence and consciousness. Some say consciousness (or self-awareness) is necessary for AI to advance and learn at the level of humans. Philosophers and scientists debate whether AI can ever have either, in particular, consciousness. Some say it is possible, while others believe it is not.

Man versus computer at chess

Man versus computer at chess

IBM’s Deep Blue famously beat human chess master Gary Kasparov at chess, though detractors say the computer was designed for one narrow task (playing chess) and won through number crunching brute force and not the sophisticated intelligence of humans. Though Deep Blue still won.

Some practical-minded people will say discussions of intelligence and consciousness are idle philosophical questions and all that matters is what AI can do. If AI can win a chess game and not appreciate the beauty of a flower, then AI can win a chess game cannot appreciate the beauty of a flower. They’ll say pondering about whether not Deep Blue has” intelligence” is a waste of time.

As questions of consciousness in humans– what it is and how and if it can be identified– is itself an ongoing debate, the question will likely be debated forever in AI.

Famed British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing devised a theoretical questions and answers test to identify if a computer has intelligence, and notice that in the movie Blade Runner Harrison Ford uses a similar test to differentiate between androids and humans.

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As a highly advanced artificial intelligence would be processing more sensory information and using different processing methods and require a more advanced brain, it would have a different than human worldview, aesthetics, psychology and sentiments. Human thought, philosophy, religion, myth, worldview, personality and art are seeped in their limited sensory biases and interpretive (light versus dark, colors, shapes), but a different brain would view the world using more and different senses, viewpoints and methods. Humans marvel at ‘surreal’ infrared photographs. Imagine what your perceptions would be if you view infrared, ultraviolet and x-rays and detect other perhaps currently unknown sensory information. in would it would like if you used different methods to process them.

It’s not so much that an advanced brain would be more advanced, but that it would be different. It would have a different personality and sensibility.





Art and the the manipulation of the mind

Art artificially manipulates the mind. The artist uses symbols, colors, shapes, timing, angles, sounds, word play and other techniques to play on the audience’s psychology, subconscious, emotions, audio and optical physiology and internal sensory processing systems. One significant point about this is that it shows that the mind can be artificially manipulated.

That humans can be effected by the fake of art, the artificial– sometimes even more so than reality– says something significant about the reliability of human aesthetic perception. Human emotions and psychology being a direct path to, or identifier of, larger objective truths is at best a dubious notion.

The famed University College London neurobiology professor Semir Zeki said that, whether they realize it or not, great artists are neuroscientists, because they experiment with and employ techniques to manipulate and influence the viewer and/or listener’s mind.

“Cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theater.”– movie director Roman Polanski

Perception and Misperception of Movement

grangeThe general concept of visually perceiving and misperceiving movement in scenes is similar to the perception and misperception of still images (see previous post). The viewer’s eyes take in a limited amount information (limited by viewpoint, optical abilities, etc) and physiologically/mentally translates the information into a perception. The human uses its complex mental template to make the final perception, or judgment of what is going on. The template was formed by experience, knowledge, genetic tendencies, physiological abilities (your visual template is literally blind to the ultraviolet light that birds see, and the infrared light snakes see), personal bias, aesthetics, etc. Often the final interpretation, or perception, is a correct representation of what is being viewed. Sometimes the perception is off.

Except for more extreme situations (very slow movement, very small objects), the human eyes/mind is good at detecting the presence of movement in its field of view. The misperceptions most commonly happen in the interpretation of the movement. Humans can correctly detect the presence of movement, but misinterpret the speed, the direction, even what is moving. A human can think object A is moving, when it is object B moving (see ‘Parking lot prank’ below).

As with still images, viewers are often faced with ambiguous situations. The viewed information can be perceived in different ways, often opposing ways. The ambiguity can be because we have a limited view of a scene. A limited view can be cause by our point of view (viewing from the left or right, close or far), because the view is partially obstructed, or the capabilities of our eyesight is stretched (object is too far away or it’s getting dark). Even with still images, these types of limitations can cause illusions.

With ambiguous, multiple choice information, the human uses its template to pick which choice is correct. Often times the template’s pick is correct, while sometimes the pick is wrong.

The following are examples of being presented with ambiguous information and making the wrong choice about what is going on.

Parking lot prank
A prank you may have heard about is where the two pranksters park their two cars, one on each side of a parking space. Sometime later, the unsuspecting victim parks his car in the space. When the unsuspecting victim is fiddling with his keys or checking the contents of his wallets or looking in the glove compartment, the pranksters suddenly drive foreword or backward in unison. The victim gets the instant sensation that it is his car moving and panics. He soon figures out what happens, and is embarrassed. This is an example where a person correctly identifies the presence of movement, but misinterprets what is moving. Also note that his misperception was instinctual, and soon corrected when he figured out what happened (“Damn kids.”).

Change of speed pitches in baseball.  In baseball, pitchers use a so called changeup pitch to fool the batter. A changeup is intended to resemble a fastball but is slower. The changeup is typically thrown after a fastball, often consecutive fastballs. Then, seeing the identical fastball arm and body motion from the pitcher, the batter believes the ball is again coming fast and swings accordingly. When the changeup works for the pitcher, the unexpected speed results in the hitter making feeble or no contact with the ball. A batter can look the fool swinging with all his might at a slow pitch.

In this case, the batter correctly perceives that the baseball is moving, but incorrectly guesses its speed. Also note that batter’s perception of speed was not based on ball movement itself, but the batter’s expectations, expectations based on past experience.

famed changeup pitcher, Greg Maddux

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Duly note that a wrong pick doesn’t always mean it was a bad one. If it looks as if someone’s about to throw a brick at you, it’s a prudent move to react as if he will even if he wasn’t going to. When a car is moving towards you, its not a bad idea to overestimate its speed. These and other perception choices are more about self preservation than statistical accuracy. Also not that many instances, for example with the parking lot prank, a person must react instantly to the ambiguous information. Humans wouldn’t have lasted long on this earth if they weren’t able to react to movement automatically, instinctually, even if sometimes incorrectly.

Also note that many of the misperceptions were corrected with time and knowledge. Both the parking lot patsy and the baseball hitter corrected their misperceptions. Humans aren’t omniscient svengalis. Our perceptions are honed, corrected and filled in by knowledge, experience, new viewpoints.

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How we judge movement in motionless images

Judging and perceiving movement in still images illustrates how we judge movement using things other than movement itself. We use the overall scene, our experience and expectations about what is going on. Discussing the movement in motionless images (which of course is oxymoric) reveals aspects of our template– what motionless conditions and qualities indicate movement in our minds.

Even though they are motionless, we see dogs in the act of running. Blurred ground, field, open mouths and hanging tongues, ears titled back, all evoke the sense of movement.

Movement and direction is inferred by the blurriness of ball and background, and even how the image was cropped.

We not only perceive wind, but wind moving left to right

The tree was motionless at the moment the photo was shot, but have a story about the tree’s past and future movement. We assume lightening knocked down the tree during a storm. We can also umagine the tree being chopped up and taken away.

Ambiguous movement: The Barber pole illusion

There are instances where, due to limited including obscured viewpoint, one cannot determine the direction of movement. A standard example is the candy striped barber pole.

A barber pole has diagonal stripes and is rotated to the left or right. Looking from a particular angle it can look as if the stripes are moving straight up or down (depending on direction of rotation). Faced with different plausible choices (moving up or rotating), humans unconsciously pick one. The pick may or may not be correct.


Strobescopic Effect and Ambiguous movement

While humans perceive realistic movement in the quick flashing of still images that is a movie, there is a strange, unrealistic movement they sometimes notice. In old time Westerns, the wheels of a moving wagon sometimes appear to be still, rotating slower than they should or even rotating backwards. This happens when the rotation speed of the spokes is not in synchronicity with speed of the film.

The below three still images of a wagon wheel look to show the wheel in the same position, but they show the wheel at different rotations. The middle picture is rotated 90 degrees from the left image, and the right is rotated an additional 90 degrees. That each spoke is shaped and colored identical to the others is essential to the illusion. If these were the stills in a movie the rotating wheel would appear to be motionless. If they were the stills in a movie but the rotation was 80 degrees instead of 90, the wheels would appear to be going backwards.

The wagon wheel illusion in a movie is an example of the stroboscopic effect. In the dark, a strobe gives off intermittent flashes of light. The viewer views a moving object though short intermittent snapshots rather than a continuous view. This can lead to misperception of movement, such as with the movie wagon wheel.

Say you are watching a swinging pendulum under stroboscopic lighting. If the strobe flashes a quick burst of light once every second and it takes the pendulum exactly one second to swing back and forth, the pendulum will appear to be motionless. Each flash catches the pendulum in the same position, the pendulum having done quite a bit of moving in the dark. If the flashes catch the pendulum at its extreme right position, the pendulum will appear to being pulled or blown right.

This is an example of the human making an Occham’s razor perception from the limited information. The information is ambiguous, there are different possible explanations for what you see, and the viewer chooses the simplest explanation, the one that seems to make the most sense. If you and others saw no movement in an object, it would be considered bizarre for you to proclaim that the object was moving. However, this bizarre proclemation would be correct with the pendulum. This should offer some insight into the limitations of Ockham’s razor (see early blog post).  Sometimes the simplest explanation is wrong because it formed from limited information.

The human’s perception of flashing still images, including with movies and strobes, bring up interesting questions about how human perceive and about our understanding of very fast objects.

Do the above snapshots show a moving or still pendulum? One can’t tell.

Animated advertising signs that use a grid of flashing lights give an example of how humans interpret changing information. When you look at the above, it soon appears that there is a single yellow dot moving around and around. However, it is many dots changing color (the equivalent of lights turning on and off). Bank signs and sport stadium scoreboards use this technique to create apparent animated words and characters. When one doesn’t know what is happening (of and on lights), the information can be interpreted different ways, but is usually perceived as one light moving. Even when one knows what is happening, it is still perceived as a single moving light. The phenomenon is commonly referred to as the Phi phenomenon.

There is a different but related phenomenon of the Phi phenomenum, called the Beta phenomenon. An example of this is when two different, but same looking pictures of balls or dots or whatever are flashed one after the other on a screen. Even though they are two distinct pictures, humans commonly perceive it as one thing moving. Whether the two images are flashed in quick succession or with longer delay, the perception of a single object moving is the same.

Movies as quasi strobe images

When watching a movie, the people or horses on the screen appear to move realistically, but are stroboscopic-like flashes of still images. To the mind, this quick succession of still images of a horse most closely matches real movement. The mind is faced with information that can be interpreted different ways. To the mind, real movement may not be the perfect choice (the eyes and detect the shuttering of the film), but it seems better than other choices.

“Close enough counts”
As the movie motion shows, visual information that is close enough to what the brain’s template detects as real can be perceived as real. When judging ambiguous information, the brain chooses what the information most closely resembles. The motion picture running horse information closely, if not totally, matches up with brain’s template for a running horse, so is perceived as a running horse. Close enough is good enough. The mind often interprets the images from movies and illusory strobe flashed objects to be moving differently than they are, because the illusory movement seems more plausible.

Neurons in our unconscious brains are used to identify and interpret movement. They help identify not only the presence of movement, but judge the direction and speed. There are still images with patterns that the neurons interpret, if only briefly, as motion. The below are examples.