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Do You Still Believe Your Eyes?

A long pencilEl Greco is a famous Spanish painter, whose artworks feature in long and narrow objects. Some people believe that Greco’s visual system is different from the others and thus he draws what he sees, so everything he draws is narrow and long. This explanation seems reasonable, but this is actually a fallacy, because if everything Greco sees is longer than it should be, then the canvas should also be long, meaning the paintings should be in well scaled.

 Researchers propose a hypothesis: objects we see is not only influenced by our visual system, but can also be affected by other factors. Researchers have testified this hypothesis using a classic visual illusion experiment.

In this experiment, if one holds a long staff in hands, he will under-estimate the distance between two objects compared with people without the staff. If the result totally comes from visual system, then the change in method of estimating distance can alter the result. It’s like how Greco draws his artworks: If holding a long staff makes one under-estimate distance, then if everyone has a staff in hands, won’t there be any under-estimating cases? If we think estimating distance is a completely conscious process, the possibility of under-estimating distance will be gone; however, if there are other influencing factors, then the under-estimating situation might not be disappeared.

 El Greco

This is one of Greco’s paintings, and the character is longer than we usually see.

However, researchers found that no matter how participants estimate the distance, they always under-estimate the distance between two objects while holding a staff. On the contrary, participants would not under-estimate the distance given that people would under-estimate distance with a staff in hands. The results show that people’s visual system is influenced by other factors, specifically in this experiment, is influenced by subjective consciousness.

Such phenomenon is not only occurred when estimating distance: When people are recalling memories related with sense of morality, they feel the room is brighter. One possible explanation for this is that people usually link morality to brightness and therefore, when they are moral, they feel bright and their evaluation on surrounding brightness is affected by such feeling.

According to the results, we may want to re-think the relationships between consciousness and cognition systems. Previous researchers claimed that consciousness system affects cognition system, however their correlation is not that simple. This study also proved that people can change their consciousness in various ways.