This building is full of optical illusions. We know the things we are looking at are a trick, of course, because we built them but they continue to trick us regardless. There are optical illusions in this building that play with perspective, so we see people as a size they aren’t, in some, we see things moving when nothing is really moving and, in others, we see things that aren’t there or don’t see things that are there. As rational adult human beings, we know our brains and/or eyes are playing tricks on us but how they actually do that varies from illusion to illusion and even neuroscience can’t answer this question definitively. There are some very convincing theories though so here they are.

Making Assumptions

A fact that’s somewhat disturbing is the idea that nothing we see is definitely real in the way we see it. Everything we see is interpreted by our brain. The world around us goes through the filters of the various ways our eyes work and then the multiple ways our brain interprets the messages our eyes send them. Scientists postulate this process takes time which means there is a very short delay between things happening and our brain perceiving them. To compensate for this, some believe our brains make assumptions on what is about to happen and this is how our brains are ‘tricked’ by optical illusions because the assumptions we make are wrong. This results in seeing things that aren’t there or seeing things not quite as they really are.

Rapid Eye Movement

Even when we feel like our eyes are still, they’re actually making lots of really small movements. Our brains ‘smooth’ these movements out of our vision. That means what we are looking at appears still but some optical illusions use this to make still pictures look like they are moving. You will notice, when you look at such an illusion, that the bits you focus on appear still but it’s the bits in your peripheral vision that appear to be moving.

Cultural Factors

Some research has shown people from different cultures have seen some optical illusions differently suggesting that cultural training and habits may affect how we see things. They based this on the idea that people in the west are very used to seeing things in straight lines and regular shapes but people brought up in less industrialised cultures don’t see this as much so illusions that play on those expectations don’t work on them. There is also evidence, and we’ve seen this ourselves, that some illusions are also less strong in children, providing even more evidence that culture and society can influence our visual systems. One example of an illusion which can be less strong in children and Eastern cultures is the Ebbinghaus Circles. These are identical circles which appear different sizes due to the circles surrounding them. See if you can find them in our galleries!

It’s a bit mad to realise how much of what we perceive is based on what we expect to see, isn’t it? You may notice, when you visit Paradox Place, that how you and the people you are with see our illusions is different too. Interesting, isn’t it? If you’d like to talk to us about our illusions or organise a group visit to Paradox Place, please get in touch on 01273 964000 or email