Things You Cannot Unsee (What That Says About Your Brain)

We’re going to rewire your brain. Are you ready?

I want to show you something simple your mind can do, which illustrates a fascinating emerging theory about how the brain works. First, look at this logo of the World Cup this year.

World Cup
The idea of the emblem is obvious: This is an illustration of a trophy with an abstract soccer ball on top. The colors—green, yellow, and blue—mirror the host country’s flag.

Now consider this tweet from copywriter Holly Brockwell, which got 2,400 thousand retweets: “CANNOT UNSEE: the Brazil 2014 logo has been criticised for ‘looking like a facepalm.'”

You know, a facepalm:

Face Palm

With this new cue—to see the logo as a facepalm—the yellow part becomes an arm with its hand pressed into a green head. And, as Brockwell indicated, once you see this second possibility, you can’t unsee it.

People report this kind of thing all the time, and they use this same phrase: cannot unsee. Someone points out something and suddenly a secondary interpretation of an image appears. There’s something a little scary about this process, even when the images are harmless. We have a flash of insight and a new pattern is revealed hiding within the world we thought we knew. It surprises us. Ah! That’s not a vine, that’s a snake! That’s an LG logo. NO—it’s Pac-Man!

But usually the image hasn’t changed; only what we think about it has. What’s going on here?

I couldn’t find anyone who studies the really specific cannot-unsee phenomenon that I’m talking about here. But Villanova psychologist Tom Toppino has been studying phenomena like this for decades. He sent me a famous image from the academic literature that gets at what’s happening with the World Cup logo. I’m not going to tell you what it is yet, but there is a figure in this field of spots. (Don’t scroll ahead!)



See it yet?

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