Bringing Multisensory Illusions to the Public, by Alex Rendón

If people had any trouble getting up for a 10am event this Tuesday, all eyes were soon wide-open as people saw their own limbs disappear before them! Dr. Rob McIntosh and Dr. Roger Newport put together a string of multisensory illusions, held at 7 George Square, in their event to familiarize the work in psychology to the general public. As part of their efforts, their show will be featured in this year’s Camera Obscura at the Fringe.

Things got off with a rather philosophical discussion about the senses. However, things escalated quickly when people’s fingers were extended once the award-winning MIRAGE box was brought out. People placed their hands into a two-level box: hands came in at the bottom level which was separated from the top level, through which people could see into the box, by a screen that projected their hands – effectively it was if as they could see right through the levels and look at their hands.  

By using a series of visual gimmicks on the screen, the organisers were able to create visual illusion of fingers being stretched or limbs disappearing but being sensibly moved around. Even as they explained the science of the illusion people could not help but be perplexed. The punch line is that perception & experience are inferential feats done by the brain. If the brain receives sensory signals from a brush running along the fingers but has a corresponding visual perception of an enlarged hand, it simply creates the experience of a giant hand!

Needless to say, this was awesome. I learned a lot about what psychology is, beyond therapy. If perception and conscious experience are so malleable as this suggest, I wonder how much of it can be consciously controlled by the power of the mind?!


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