How ‘The Dress’ Sparked a Neuroscience Breakthrough

In 2015, before Brexit, before Trump, before the Macedonian Internet trolls, before the conspiracy theories of QAnon and Covid, before the fake news and alternative facts, the disagreement over the suit was described by an NPR affiliate as “the debate that broke the Internet.” The Washington Post he called it “the drama that divided the planet.”

The Dress was a meme, a viral photo that appeared on all social media for a few months. Some, when they looked at the photo, saw a dress that looked black and blue. For others, the dress looked white and gold. Whatever people saw, it was impossible to see it any other way. Were it not for the social aspect of social media, you may never have known that some people saw it differently. But from social media is social, learning the fact that millions of people wore a different dress to yours created a widespread visceral response. People who saw a different dress looked clearly, obviously wrong, and quite possibly upset. When the dress began to circulate on the Internet, a tangible feeling of fear about the nature of what is and is not real became as viral as the image itself.

Sometimes so many people shared this perceptual riddle and argued about it, that Twitter could not be loaded on their devices. The hashtag #TheDress appeared in 11,000 tweets per minute, and the final article on the meme, posted on the WIRED website, received 32.8 million unique views in the early days.

For many, the dress was an introduction to something that neuroscience has long understood: the fact that reality itself, as we experience it, is not a perfect one-to-one account of the world around us. The world, as you experience it, is a simulation that runs inside your skull, a waking dream. We all live in a virtual landscape of perpetual imagination and self-generated illusion, a hallucination informed throughout our lives by our senses and thoughts about them, continually updated as we introduce new experiences through these senses and we think new thoughts about what we have heard. . If you didn’t know, for many the Suit required you to grab yourself at the keyboard to scream into the abyss or to sit back and reflect on your place in the grand scheme of things.

Before the dress, it was well understood in neuroscience that all reality is virtual; therefore, the realities of consensus are mostly the result of geography. People who grow up in similar environments around similar people tend to have similar brains and therefore similar virtual realities. If they disagree, it is usually about ideas, not the stark truth of their perceptions.

After the suit, well, comes Pascal Wallisch, a neuroscientist who studies consciousness and perception at NYU. When Pascal first saw the dress, it seemed to him that it was obviously white and gold, but when he showed it to his wife, he saw something different. He said it was obviously black and blue. “All that night I was awake, thinking what could explain this.”

Thanks to years of research into the photoreceptors of the retina and the neurons to which they connect, he thought he understood the roughly thirty steps in the visual processing chain, but “it all opened wide in February of 2015 when the dress appeared. Social media. ” He felt like a biologist learning that doctors had just discovered a new organ in his body.

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