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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 25, Issue 5

These 5 Illusions Turn Ordinary Humans into Superheroes

Superpower your imagination

Sue Richards, aka the Invisible Woman of Fantastic Four fame, could manipulate light waves to make herself invisible. This superselfie of 18-year-old photographer Laura Williams of Cambridge, England, is fantastic in that our brain at first glance does not hesitate to perceive the young woman as partially invisible, instead of outright concluding that this is an impossible scenario.

We all have mental models of the human body, so we conclude that a girl is sitting behind the frame rather than that she is a disembodied head and limbs. Yet our visual system's capacity to link the landscape in the background to the image inside the frame—which should reflect what is in front of, not behind, the girl—is even more powerful than our brain's schemas of the human frame. This kind of perceptual stitching, which the German Gestalt psychology movement called “the law of good continuation,” trumps the brain's assumptions about the shape of the human body. As a result, we imagine an invisible girl sitting behind an empty frame rather than a landscape reflected on a mirror.


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