Last week, we asked about a familiar image. Can you see the hag? Can you see the beautiful lady?

Last week, we asked about the following familiar image: http://www.moillusions.com/2006/05/young-lady-or-old-hag.html. Can you see the hag? Can you see the beautiful lady? In fact, most people can see both. But we can see only one at a time. Why is this?

Note: If you have not actually gone to look at the image, you won’t benefit nearly as much as you could from this exercise. Don’t believe the blogger! See for yourself, even if you think you are familiar with this illusion.

Well, the answer is because we don’t actually see things as they are. We BUILD images from FRAGMENTS that fit mental models that we have. The mental models may be innate in some cases and may have been carefully constructed as part of a professional (or other) training program.

In the case in point, the beautiful lady’s hairdo is the hag’s bangs. The beautiful lady’s chin is the hag’s nose. The hag’s mouth is the beautiful lady’s necklace. The hag’s eye is the beautiful lady’s ear. The feather in the beautiful lady’s hat just becomes invisible when we see the hag. The beautiful lady’s fur is the hag’s crunched up shoulders. Etc. Etc. Etc.

You really have to look carefully and with discipline at the picture to see the pairs of features that I have just described. That is because we INSTANTANEOUSLY see either the beautiful woman or the hag (maybe depending on our mood or feelings about women at the time of viewing ) as the OVERALL PATTERN for hag or beauty that is stored in our brain/mind.

We emphatically do not go down a rational list of “nose, ear, hair, eyes, mouth, hat, shawl, etc.” when we instantly see what is in front of us. We see a face or a person in its entirety and may look at details later. Many experiments have been done to show that humans are pattern-recognizing beings. There has of late been quite a bit of research on why we see patterns that are not even there! Visit this link to learn more.

The branch of philosophy dealing with how we know what we know is known as epistemology [ih-pis-tuh-mol-uh-jee]. Say it out loud. It is fun to say. There is a lot of information available on this subject. An accessible history of our theories about how we can tell reliable from false knowledge that is directed more at scientific types than theologians (the other group of people who are generally interested in this topic) can be found here.

Happy Reading!