Ted Talk: Optical Illusions Reveal How Brain Works — We’re Pretty Much All Tripping, All the Time

Posted by on November 18, 2012 in Science with 0 Comments

Ben Thomas | Huffington Post

Watch Beau Lotto’s talk above on optical illusions and how information can differ depending on perception.

TED and The Huffington Post are excited to bring you TEDWeekends, a curated weekend program that introduces a powerful “idea worth spreading” every Friday, anchored in an exceptional TEDTalk. This week’s TEDTalk is accompanied by an original blog post from the featured speaker, along with new op-eds, thoughts and responses from the HuffPost community. Watch the talk above, read the blog post and tell us your thoughts below. Become part of the conversation!

The year was 1943, and the Pentagon had a problem. They’d poured millions of dollars into a new voice encryption system — dubbed the “X System” — but no one was certain how secure it was. So the top brass called in Claude Shannon to analyze their code and — if all went well — to prove that it was mathematically unbreakable.

Shannon was a new breed of mathematician: A specialist in what’s known today as information theory. To Shannon and his fellow theorists, information was something separate from the letters, numbers and facts it represented. Instead, it was something more abstract; more mathematical: in a word, it wasnon-redundancy.

Take, for example, the sequence of letters spelling out “Let’s crack the codes.” It’s got a high level of redundancy — not all its letters are essential for getting its message across. As long as you’ve got some practice reading English, you can look at a shorter, less-redundant sequence like “Lt’s crck th cdes” and fill in the missing sounds. Along the same lines, Hebrew and Arabic speakers can read the vowel-free written forms of their languages just fine. Our brains are surprisingly talented at picking up patterns, filling in blanks, and ignoring redundant data — only when we’re uncertain about how to fill in a blank does information become… well, informative.

Shannon’s non-redundancy idea isn’t just handy for cracking codes, though — today, it’s responsible for most of what you see on the Internet. JPEG image compression, for instance, throws out most of an image’s data, and we rarely notice anything’s missing – our brains’ visual system smooths out the rough spots. Same goes for MP3 compression, and for the Flash video encoding used on YouTube. Ever since Shannon’s day, information theorists have been refining their techniques, drilling closer and closer to the bare minimum of information required to convince us we’re not missing anything. (You might say those ancient Hebrew and Arabic scribes were a few thousand years ahead of their time.)



Data compression isn’t just digital, either — in fact, it’s hardwired into our brains, from the neurons up. As Beau Lotto shows us in his TEDTalk above, every color we perceive is dependent on its context: What other colors surround it? Is it in light or in shadow? How’s the light tinted? And what’s true for light holds true for sound, too — as I explain in this article, your brain gets so pumped up about rhythm that it actually hallucinates missing beats. Oh, and if you’re in the mood for something extra weird today, check out Oliver Sacks’ TEDTalkon Charles Bonnet syndrome — a brain disorder that makes people hallucinate vivid scenes from tiny stray nerve signals.

In light of all this, it’s hard to escape the inventor Ray Kurzweil’sconclusion: “We don’t actually see things [at all]; we hallucinate them in detail from low-resolution cues.” As Beau Lotto explains in his presentation, we’re hallucinating reality all the time — but we only take notice when our hallucinations fail to make accurate predictions; when we think we’re certain of something that’s actually not so certain, and our brains have to hunt down new information in order to make better predictions.

Read the rest of the article at The Huffington Post

Tags: , , , , ,


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on YouTube

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAIR USE NOTICE. Many of the stories on this site contain copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making this material available in an effort to advance the understanding of environmental issues, human rights, economic and political democracy, and issues of social justice. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in Section 107 of the US Copyright Law which contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. If you wish to use such copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use'...you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. And, if you are a copyright owner who wishes to have your content removed, let us know via the "Contact Us" link at the top of the site, and we will promptly remove it.

The information on this site is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice of any kind. Conscious Life News assumes no responsibility for the use or misuse of this material. Your use of this website indicates your agreement to these terms.

Paid advertising on Conscious Life News may not represent the views and opinions of this website and its contributors. No endorsement of products and services advertised is either expressed or implied.

Send this to friend