In the news recently was #TheDress. It’s a dress that appears black and blue to some people, white and gold to other people. It tricks the eye. I have no idea if the people who made the dress expected this to happen or if they did it deliberately.
Parlor magic is a science that exploits this type of flaw in our evolved perception systems. A magic act tricks our eye to see something differently than what actually happened. We see something that isn’t possible or at least a different version of events than what actually happened. Less often, parlor magic does with with our senses other than sight. The now infamous dress is one of the finest examples of these tricks that use science in this way.
It turns out the way our vision system perceives color is relative not absolute so it’s possible for different people to perceive the world differently. This particular dress is perceived one of the two ways depending on how its background was processes by our vision system. Other tricks exploit the fact that vision has a lower bandwidth than most think and a lot of what we see is interpolated by our perceptive systems. The neurons in our eyes do extensive image processing before transmitting to the brain and the brain does more image processing still.
The way our systems process data is distributed with different processing conducted in different places. This system is evolved not designed so there are flaws in it. These flaws get exploited by the science of parlor magic. Parlor magic, easily seen as trickery, is actually carefully experimented exploitation of flaws in our evolved processing.
As I progressed through this article I’ve expanded the context of the evolved flaws. This is deliberate. We are evolved at all levels and there are flaws to be found at all levels. At each level we should expect to be able to find flaws and once understood we should be able to exploit these flaws for our own purposes. Parlor magic exploits flaws mostly in our vision but also sometimes in our attention. Politics and psychology have found ways to exploit flaws in our emotions.
Here comes the fun part. There are flaws in our reasoning systems. Different people have points of strength and points of weakness. I can puzzle through almost any computer problem but I find calendar scheduling to be mysterious. Thank the god(desse)s I had the sense to marry an organized woman who handles calendars easily. The fact that our reasoning systems are evolved and flawed explains part of why different people react differently to articles on science and philosophy.
Flaws in our reasoning isn’t going to be just a matter of individual variation. There are tools of science and philosophy specifically intended to get around our flaws. Mathematics is taught to overcome very limited number sense. Formal logic is taught to overcome a tendency to form invalid conclusions. And so on down the line of reasoning tools.
Our minds can step outside of the valid reasoning box. Sometimes the results are positive like discoveries in science. Sometimes the results are negative like the repressive systems of some religions and governments. Is it a flaw or an advantage? By your fruits shall ye be known.
Consider the implications – The process of reason is flawed because our brains are evolved not designed. The results are visible around us in diverse forms from the color shifting dress to the anti-vaccination movement. If you ever wanted to know why all knowledge is provisional and absolute truth is at best an asymptote, this is one of the reasons.
Some form of reason is likely out there that works very well but that so far no one has ever dreamed up. The universe is a wondrous place with or without deities.