Cool collection of optical illusions


Scientific American is doing a whole issue on optical illusions and they've got a sampling up on their website as a slideshow. It's interesting to see how some illusions are created by physical tricks of the eyes, while others are, apparently, psychological in nature. This illusion, for instance, is supposed to be influenced by the way sexual maturity changes your frame of mind—kids see dolphins and grown-ups see, well, sex.


    1. “What if the image makes me want to have sex with dolphins?”

      You’re Samuel Delany.

  1. I wonder if the age thing has to do with sexual maturity or with older people looking for patterns while younger people look for detail? I saw the couple first, then focused in to see the dolphins. Once I was looking at the dolphins, I had to relax my eyes to see the humans again.

  2. Maybe this says a bit more about me than I’d like to let on, but I can only see two nudes, I can’t see the dolphins at all. Can anyone help me out?

    1. I thought I was being rickrolled and gave up on the dolphins. Finally, after looking at it one more time many hours later when tired and ready for sleep, they jumped right out at me. Strange.

  3. Are there any studies or surveys that can reinforce that age-influenced illusion? Personally, I find it suspect, but I could be wrong and would enjoy seeing some evidence that I’m jumping to the wrong conclusions.

    1. My three year old girl saw “a fairy” before the dolphins. She didn’t mention the creepy dude behind her holding her tit!

  4. Didn’t even think about dolphins until it was pointed out. But there they are. Freaky.

    Powerphail: All the dark gray bits inside the borders of the white figures are dolphins. The woman’s pubic area is a tail, with the dolphin facing to the SW from there.

  5. What would happen if it was a picture of two dolphins made out of lots of people having sex?

    Insert commas where you see fit.

  6. The Bogart eye illusion seems a bit of a reach. I had to force myself to ignore the curve of the irises to get my brain to see what the caption says I should have seen outright. A sample with less-distinct curves would have been a better choice.

    As there are only ten or so illusions at that site, here’s a link to a collection of annual contest finalists:

    1. Like Anon @#6, I suspected the “children see something different” thing was almost certainly a myth, and am glad to see that anecdotally confirmed.

      Any more parents willing to try?

  7. I actually showed this to a kid and she saw nothing but dolphins. I miss my innocence

  8. I see the dolphins just fine, but like most people over the age of 6 I see the sex way more.

  9. “This illusion, for instance, is supposed to be influenced by the way sexual maturity changes your frame of mind—kids see dolphins and grown-ups see, well, sex”

    Specious reasoning right there. We’re taught/designed to see human-like forms first, so we see humans.

  10. If dolphins would see this picture, would they see the the marina mammal erotica first and have trouble recognizing the humans?

  11. The image shown is from “The message of dolphins” by Sandro Del-Prete. Al Seckel’s book “Masters of Deception” contains a chapter on Del-Prete’s artwork. Seckel writes, “The image was also displayed in an illusion exhibit gallery at the Museum of Science in Boston. When asked if there was any controversy about displaying this image, the curators replied that once a group of nuns had objected, but were quickly silenced when told that one’s perception is based upon past experience.”

  12. Thank goodness for the text, I finally see the dolphins. Those dirty, dirty, dolphins….

  13. I guess it says something when my firs thought is:

    “It has dolphins? What dolphins?”

    1. I saw the lovers and dolphins at almost exactly the same moment. I’ve noticed my reaction to these images is always this way and I chalk it up to being a visual artist. Maybe we are looking at the piece as a whole. Negative space exercises from art school days must be having an effect here.

  14. If you look at these types of illusions similar to you would a magic eye picture, you can see both. Well, at least I can. A psych prof during a class on illusions said that if anybody could see both he would like to work with them (I interpreted, be studied by him), so didn’t raise my hand…

  15. My 4 year old saw “a woman trapped in a bottle,” not dolphins. I don’t think this has as much to do with sexual maturity as much as what is the obvious dominant image from a distance.

  16. asked my 3-year-old and 5-year-old sons to tell me what they saw. both saw ‘a man kneeling down’; my younger added that the man was ‘blowing smoke’.

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