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‘White and blue’ or ‘black gold’: How the most controversial dress on social networks made a breakthrough in neuroscience

Back in 2015, before Trump, before the Bitcoin boom or the QAnon and Covid-19 conspiracy theories, disagreement over the color of a dress seemed to have “broken the internet”. The famous Washington Post even called it “a TV series capable of splitting the planet”.

The dress is a meme, stemming from a viral photo that has been all over the media and social networks for several months. For some people, when they look at the photo, they see a black and blue dress. For others, the dress is white and yellow.

The legendary photo of the controversial dress.

Whatever people saw when they looked at it, they wouldn’t be able to see it differently. If the photo didn’t garner such great interest, you probably never knew that some people saw it in a completely different way. But since social media is social, the fact that millions of people see a dress differently from the way you see it has created an extremely strong reaction. With confidence in your own eyes, you would consider people who see that dress in a distinctly different color a mistake, perhaps even deranged. But at the same time that the story of the dress began to spread on the internet, a tangible sense of dread about the nature of what is and isn’t there has spread as quickly as the photo itself.

Hashtags #TheDress appeared at a frequency of 11,000 tweets per minute during peak periods, and articles analyzing this photo even received millions of views within the first few days.

But for some people in science, especially in the field of neuroscience, the dress is an introduction to something the industry has long understood: Reality is reality itself, as we experience it. experience, rather than a perfect one-to-one account of the world around us.

The world, as you experience it, is a simulation running inside your skull, a waking dream. Each of us lives in a virtual landscape of perpetual imagination and self-generated illusion – an illusion perceived throughout our lives by our senses and our thoughts about them – constantly updated as we bring in new experiences through those senses and think new thoughts about what we already perceive.

Before the upper dress existed, it was a well-understood problem in neuroscience that all reality was virtual. Consensus facts are therefore mostly the result of geography. That is, people who grew up in similar environments tend to have similar brains and thus virtual reality is similar. If there’s something they disagree on, it’s usually the idea, not the raw truth of their perception.

 White and blue or black gold How the most controversial dress on social networks made a breakthrough in neuroscience | Discover

What color the dress you see, is up to your brain to decide for itself.

Pascal Wallisch, a neuroscientist who studies consciousness and cognition at New York University. When Pascal first saw the picture of the dress, it seemed obvious to him that it was white and gold. But when he showed it to his wife, she saw something different. She said it was clearly black and blue.

“All night, I stayed awake, thinking what could possibly explain this?” he shared.

Thanks to years of studying light receptors in the retina and the nerve cells they connect to, Pascal once thought he understood about thirty steps in the image processing chain, but “All of that was extended in February 2015 when the dress hit social media.” This scientist felt like a biologist reading the news that doctors had just discovered a new organ in the body.

The spectrum of light we can see – the primary colors we call red, green and blue – are specific wavelengths of electromagnetic energy, Pascal explained. These wavelengths of energy are emitted from several sources, such as the sun, lamps, candles… For example, when that light collides with a lemon, the lemon will absorb some of those wavelengths and the rest. pops out again. Whatever is left goes through a hole in our head called the pupil and hits the retina at the back of the eye, where it’s all converted into an electrochemical stream of neurons that that the brain uses to create the subjective experience of seeing color. Because most natural light is red, green, and blue combined, a lemon will absorb the blue wavelengths, leaving red and green colors to hit our retinas, which the brain follows. That combines into the subjective experience of seeing a lemon. Color, reality exists only in the mind. In consciousness, yellow is part of the imagination. The reason we tend to agree that lemons are yellow is because our brains all create the same fantasy images when light hits a lemon and then bounces off our heads.

 White and blue or black gold How the most controversial dress on social networks made a breakthrough in neuroscience | Discover

Color, in fact, exists only in the mind.

If we disagree about what we see, it’s usually because the image isn’t clear in some way, and one person’s brain is differentiating the image from another’s. Pascal says that in neuroscience, good examples of discrimination are called bistable introspection illusions, because each brain will deal with one interpretation at a time, and bistable (with 2 steady states) because all brains process the same two interpretations. You may have seen a few examples of these, like the animal image that sometimes looks like a duck and sometimes looks like a rabbit. Or the Rubin vase, which sometimes looks like a vase and sometimes looks like a shadow of two people facing each other.

Like all two-dimensional images, whether blobs of paint or pixels on the screen, if the lines and shapes seem similar enough to those we’ve seen in the past, we distinguish them as the Mona Lisa, a sailboat, or in the case of a bistable image, a duck or a rabbit. But the dress is something new, an adjacent parallel visual illusion. It is distinguishable because each brain solves and offers one interpretation at a time, but alternates because each brain only decides on one of two possible interpretations. That’s what makes the dress so confusing to Pascal.

The same light enters everyone’s eyes, and every brain is interpreting lines and shapes as a dress, but somehow all those brains aren’t translating that dress into the same color. . Something was going on between perception and consciousness, and he wanted to know what it was. So, this scientist found a sponsor and shifted the focus of his lab at New York University to focus on solving the mystery of the dress while this image was still going viral.

Pascal’s hunch says that different people have seen different dresses because when we’re not sure what we’re seeing, when we’re in that intermediate territory between unfamiliar and ambiguous, we differentiate everything using the original values. These are layers of pattern recognition generated by neural pathways, ignited from within by experiences with the laws of the outside world. The term comes from statistics and means that any assumption the brain brings in from the outside world will appear based on how it has appeared in the past. But the brain goes even further than that. In situations that Pascal and his colleague Michael Karlovich call “significant uncertainty,” the brain will use its experience to create the illusion of what should be but shouldn’t be. In other words, in novel situations, the brain often sees what it expects.

Pascal says this has been made clear in the matter of color vision. We can tell if a sweater is green even though our wardrobe is very dark, or a car is blue under a cloudy night sky, because the brain will do a bit of editing. images to help us in situations where different lighting conditions change the appearance of familiar objects. Each of us possesses a correction mechanism to be able to recalibrate the system vision system to “reduce brightness and achieve color fastness to maintain object recognition when brightness changes significantly”. It does that by changing what we experience to match what we’ve been through before. There’s a great example of this in the illusion created by vision researcher Akiyoshi Kitaoka.

 White and blue or black gold How the most controversial dress on social networks made a breakthrough in neuroscience | Discover

The visual illusion of Akiyoshi Kitaoka.

It looks like a bowl of red strawberries, but the image doesn’t contain a single red pixel. When you look at the photo, no red light enters your eyes. Instead, the brain thinks the image is overexposed by blue light. So it automatically lowers the contrast a bit and adds a bit of color where it thinks has just been removed, meaning that the red you experience when you look at those strawberries doesn’t come from the image. If you have grown up eating strawberries and have seen strawberries all your life, when you see the familiar shape of strawberries, your brain will assume they must be red. The red color you see in Kitaoka’s illusion is made from within, an assumption made after a fact you don’t know, or a lie told to you by your visual system to provide grant you what must be true.

Pascal thinks the dress photo must be a rare, naturally occurring version of the same phenomenon. The image must have been overexposed to make the truth appear hazy, and people’s brains have distinguished it by “lowering the light” that it assumes are present without our knowledge.

The photo was clearly taken on a bleak day. It was taken with a cheap phone. Part of the image is bright and the rest is blurred. The light is not clear. Pascal explains that colors appear in each brain differently depending on how each brain distinguishes light conditions. For some, it distinguishes ambiguity as black and blue; for others, as white and yellow. As with strawberries, the human brain accomplishes this by lying to them, by creating a lighting condition that isn’t there. According to Pascal, what makes this image different is that different brains tell different lies, thereby dividing people into two camps with different subjective realities.

Pursuing that hypothesis, Pascal thought he had an explanation for this. After two years of research with tests of more than 10,000 participants, Pascal discovered a clear pattern among his subjects. The more time a person is exposed to artificial (mostly yellow) light – especially someone who works indoors or at night – the more likely they are to say the dress is black. and blue. That’s because they assume, at the level of visual processing, unconsciously, that it is artificially illuminated. And so their brains removed the yellow, leaving behind darker shades, or bluish. However, the more time a person spends exposed to natural light – people who work during the day, outside or near windows – the more likely they are to dismiss the blue color as white. and gold. Either way, the ambiguity is never verified.

Although people see colors subjectively, images never seem hazy because conscious people only experience the output of the analytical process in their brains. And the output will vary depending on a person’s previous experience with the light. As a result, their brains lied to them that the feeling was real.

 White and blue or black gold How the most controversial dress on social networks made a breakthrough in neuroscience | Discover

Do you see a rabbit or a duck?

Pascal’s lab came up with a term for this: SURFPAD. When you combine Substantial Uncertainty with Ramified or Forked Priors, you get Disagreement.

In other words, when the truth is uncertain, our brains solve that uncertainty without our knowledge by creating the most probable reality they can imagine based on. our previous experiences. People whose brains removed that uncertainty in similar ways saw the same opinions, as did those who saw the same dress in black and blue. Other people whose brains deal with that uncertainty in a different way will also find themselves in allies, who see the dress as white and yellow. The essence of SURFPAD is that both groups feel certain, and among like-minded people it seems that those who disagree with them, regardless of their number, are confused. In each group, people then start looking for reasons why people in the other group can’t see the truth, without moving in the same direction as likely they are not seeing the truth.

When we encounter novel information that seems vague, we inadvertently judge it based on what we have experienced in the past. But starting at the cognitive level, different life experiences can lead to very different distinctions, and therefore very different subjective realities. When that happens with considerable uncertainty, we can vehemently disagree about the self of reality. But since no one on either side is aware of the brain processes that lead to that disagreement, it makes those who see things different, understandably, wrong.

Refer Wired

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