Optical Illusions versus Mental Illusions

December 25, 2008 | By | 2 Replies More

I have a quick tidbit to share- an observation made by a psychology professor I had this quarter. It gives me a refreshed and relaxed perspective on the topic of humanity’s many mental foibles. It goes something like this:

We use optical illusions to demonstrate how the visual system works, by pointing out instances when the system fails. Why don’t we do the same with mental errors, such as logical fallacies? When some fancy, modern graphics work tricks the eye, we don’t bemoan the shoddy construction of the optical system. So why do we shrug our fellow man off as “stupid” when a fancy, modern situation trips up our equally ancient mental systems?

As a hard-core psychology obsessive, I often fall into the trap of hating the human brain for its relatively rare errors. On the whole, our noggins navigate the complexities of the modern world effortlessly. Yet somehow, the few times that I see someone commit the gambler’s fallacy, or produce an ad hominem attack, the mental offense burns itself into my memory. Not fair at all– in fact, it represents an error of the availability heuristic itself. When I think of mental slip-ups as the equivalent of an optical illusion, I feel much better. Since this blog frequently touches on cognitive errors (and optical illusions), I thought it prudent to share this calming little notion.


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Category: ignorance, Psychology Cognition, Whimsy

About the Author ()

Erika is a PhD student in Social Psychology living in Chicago. Here on DI she most often writes about current events, psychology, skepticism, media and internet culture.

Comments (2)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Erika: I agree entirely. Let's not discriminate among our cognitive abilities. We don't yell at our visual systems when they are "tricked." Nor should be get angry with any of the other heuristics when they are tricked. Without those (fallable) rough and ready approaches for digesting and understanding our world, we wouldn't even be here to get frustrated at them when they occasionally trip and fall.

  2. Zzubboy says:

    I like optical illusions more than mental ones definitely!!!

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