See Inside January/February 2012

Illusion Contest Offers Mind-Warping Visions

10 brain twisters compete to be the best illusion of 2011

Courtesy of Héctor Rieiro Barrow Neurological Institute

Jordan Suchow came to three rapid-fire conclusions as he watched his Macintosh laptop plummet toward the floor. First, in approximately 300 milliseconds he was going to be in a heap of trouble—the machine had been given to him by his thesis adviser, George Alvarez of Harvard University. Second, hoping against all hope, he decided that Harvard could probably afford to buy him a new computer. Third, he realized that the most important observation of his life was unfolding right in front of him as his laptop accelerated toward the parquet: the onscreen doughnut that he had programmed to scintillate appeared to have stopped doing so.

Suchow’s Ph.D. research project on cognition and attention had required him to program a visual display in which every element changed continuously, hence the scintillating doughnut. While working on the project at home, Suchow pulled his Mac from a coffee table to his lap. During the transfer, he noticed that the cycling of the doughnut’s colors seemed to slow down. Startled, he dropped the machine altogether and was fascinated to see the color cycling cease completely as the doughnut fell.

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