The optical illusion that shows how our eyes may lie to compensate for what they can’t see

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Called Ninio


Scientists have developed an optical illusion that may explain how our eyes compensate for what they cannot see. 

Called Ninio’s extinction illusion, it features 12 dots on a grey and white grid. 

However, there is a twist – it’s impossible to see all 12 of the dots at once. 

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Called Ninio's extinction illusion, it features 12 dots on a grey and white grid. But, as frustrated onlookers will surely notice, it's impossible to see all 12 of the dots at once

Called Ninio’s extinction illusion, it features 12 dots on a grey and white grid. But, as frustrated onlookers will surely notice, it’s impossible to see all 12 of the dots at once

HOW DOES THE ILLUSION WORK?  

The illusion features 12 dots evenly spaced across the grid.

But when users focus on one dot in particular, they’ll notice many of the other dots fade away into the intersecting lines.  

Experts say the illusion represents an example of the limits of our vision. 

Humans have more neurons in the center of their vision than the outside.

This means we can only see things within a certain range of the center of our vision. 

As a result, our brains try to compensate for our peripheral vision by ‘filling in the blanks’ for what it thinks it sees.  

The optical illusion was created by French scientist Jacques Ninio and first detailed in a paper published in 2000. 

If the grid were to be removed, viewers could easily see all 12 of the black dots simultaneously. 

But when presented on a grid, our perception changes entirely. 

As you focus on one dot in particular, you’ll notice many of the other dots fade away into the intersecting lines. 

Several adjacent dots may remain on the grid, but others that are farther away seem to disappear in an instant. 

The average user is only able to see up to four dots at one time. 

‘When the white disks in a scintillating grid are reduced in size, and outlined in black, they tend to disappear,’ Ninio explained in the study. 

‘One sees only a few of them at a time, in clusters which move erratically on the page. Where they are not seen, the grey alleys seem to be continuous, generating grey crossings that are not actually present. 

‘Some black sparkling can be seen at those crossings where no disk is seen. The illusion also works in reverse contrast,’ he added. 

Experts say the illusion represents an example of the limits of our vision.

‘Our visual system is lazy,’ Susana Martinez-Conde, a neuroscientist at the State University of New York’s Downstate Medical Center, told Popular Science.

The average user is only able to see up to four dots at one time in the extinction illusion. Experts say the illusion represents an example of the limits of our vision

‘Regular patterns are tempting because you can look at a small portion and think you have the whole thing figured out.’  

Many scientists trying to figure out Ninio’s work refer back to the conclusions made from an illusion called the ‘Hermann grid.’

The Hermann grid is a popular optical illusion, where users view a white grid on a black background. 

As users move their eyes around the image, dark dots quickly appear and disappear at the intersections. 

Like the Hermann grid, Ninio’s extinction illusion demonstrates how our brain compensates for what we cannot see. 

Humans are believed to have more neurons in the center of their vision than the outside. 

This means we can only see things within a certain range of the center of our vision. 

The image first took the internet by storm in 2016. Like the Hermann grid, Ninio's extinction illusion demonstrates how our brain compensates for what we cannot see

The image first took the internet by storm in 2016. Like the Hermann grid, Ninio's extinction illusion demonstrates how our brain compensates for what we cannot see

The image first took the internet by storm in 2016. Like the Hermann grid, Ninio’s extinction illusion demonstrates how our brain compensates for what we cannot see

As a result, our brains try to compensate for our peripheral vision by ‘filling in the blanks’ for what it thinks it sees.    

The image first took the internet by storm in 2016 when it was posted on Twitter by game developer Will Kerslake, as well as Japanese psychology professor and illusion expert Akiyoshi Kitaoka. 

Many said they stared at the image for minutes on end before acquiescing that they’d never be able to see them all.

‘I double-checked on different formats. Couldn’t catch them all,’ one Twitter user said. 



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