The Light Side: Hey, Brain, Stop Messing with My Eyes

January 24, 2014

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Our eyes are arguably our most important tools, helping us navigate through this crazy world. But even more important than our eyes are our brains -- we can function without sight, but without our most powerful organ, we are dead. But sometimes, our brains screw with us.

It is the brain's trickery that gives us optical illusions (and we're not talking about the kinds of deception Lance Burton peddled at the Monte Carlo in Vegas). When we see an image that is different from objective reality, our brains have taken the information from our eyes and, trying to organize and make sense of it, produced a perception for us. As well-known neuroscientist R. Beau Lotto wrote in BBC News, "In fact we never see what our eyes see."

Some patterns confuse the brain. And when it gets confused, it doesn't want what our eyes see. Instead, it digs into our past experiences and attempts to create a contextual image from the confusing information. Scientists say this comes from our evolutionary psychology that's been critical to our survival.

"The beautiful thing about illusions is they make us [realize] things are never what they seem, and that our experiences of the world shape our understanding of it," Lotto wrote.

After you've absorbed all of that, here's a little mind-scrambler. Try and count the black dots in the picture below... remember to pull away after a while. An explanation of what you will see is below the image.

The optical illusion is called a scintillating grid and caused by a neural process called lateral inhibition.

A Movie Promotion Stunt from Hell

Film marketers have, for generations, leaned on all kinds of publicity stunts to get people buzzing about a movie and ultimately into theaters. The rise of viral video, however, has opened up new possibilities with "terrifying" results.

Take, for instance, last October's prank at a West Village coffee shop in New York City to generate word of mouth for Carrie, a remake of the 1976 classic horror film based on Stephen King's novel. Two actors were hired for the publicity stunt, in which one gets directed up a wall by the other, through wire special effects rigging, to simulate the movie character's telekinetic powers. Unsuspecting patrons got a way-extra jolt with their coffee, and the video showing their fear-stricken panic has gotten more than 53 million views to date.

The guerrilla-marketing agency behind the publicity stunt, Thinkmodo, was at it again earlier this month. This time, promoting the low-budget horror flick Devil's Due, Thinkmodo set out to scare the bejeezus out of New York City passersby with a remote-controlled baby stroller tucking a frightening animatronic newborn. Albeit less clever than the last idea, "Devil Baby Attack" has garnered almost 38 million views.

New York City-based Thinkmodo hatches up viral video campaigns for online engagement and earned media coverage. It counts Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, CBS Films, and the AMC cable television network as clients.

With no well-known actors carrying it, Devil's Due had to rely on good buzz before its Jan. 17 opening. Through one weekend, the film has already made back its $7 million budget with $8.3 million in box office receipts. It was another successful stunt by the crack members of Thinkmodo, but maybe next time people will be ready for them.

Till then, props to the man at the one-minute mark in the video who didn't flinch.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PUKMUZ4tlJg[/youtube]

From Engineering.com: Make a Metal Detector in 7 Steps

DIYers who would like to find some lost treasure but don't want to fork money over for a metal detector, well, you're in luck.

On Engineering.com's "Engineering How To's" video channel, a video produced by Howcast shows how an old pocket AM/FM radio, a calculator, a standard compact-disc jewel case, and some Velcro can be put together to make an ad-hoc buried-coin or lost-jewelry finder.

Maybe you have always wanted to go prospecting on weekends. Now you can; just look in your junk drawer.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=nyXQbcEnUzE[/youtube]

Check out more Engineering.com videos:

British Invasion of Offbeat Signs

The pranks didn't end in New York City. Some naughty bloke plastered fake signs with humorous public service announcements all over the Tube in London.

We're fairly certain Transport for London, which runs the subway -- and the Queen (see why below) -- weren't amused. Hey, at least it isn't graffiti.

But you have to admit the fake signs are pretty cheeky and certainly made the morning rush hour a little less monotonous. For the full imagery, see here.

Top photo credit: khunaspix at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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