The Vanishing Cricket Ball Illusion – Seeing into the Future

The England squad to tour Australia this winter, excepting KP, are upstairs at the National Cricket Performance Centre staring into space as a cricket ball, tossed into the air by the Master Magician, Gustave Kuhn, vanishes before their very eyes.

For those who missed Parts I and II, they can be read here and here and the illusion which is at the centre of this experience can be witnessed again below:

Hiding behind a basket of fruit, Third Man looks on as the men, mouths open wide, blink and go over the experience again in their heads.

Enthralled as they are by what they have seen, or not seen, they fail to notice as Kuhn’s place is taken by Ben Tatler of the Dundee University’s Psychology Department.  With accustomed ease and nothing of the stage about it, Doctor Tatler finesses a pen-drive into a laptop and begins an explanation.

“You have just seen a ball rise from Gus’ hand and disappear into thin air.  How is this done, you may ask? Using an eye-tracker we can plot what is going on.  First the typical observer watches the hand of the illusionist, then, his face and, then, moves to a spot above the illusionist’s head before returning along with the ball to the hand.”

“When the process is repeated the observer’s eyes once more follow this path; from the hand to the face, to a point above the illusionist’s head and back to the hand.” 

“On the third throw the observer’s eyes leave the hand and look at the face, but this time, although the brain experiences the illusion and ‘sees’ the ball rise into the air, the eyes are not fooled and remain focused on the magician’s face.”

“It is the expectation in the brain of what should happen that is important.  The illusionist uses strong visual cues that encourage these expectations.  If, on a third throw, Gus were to continue to look at his hand rather that to look up, half as many of you would seeing the ball rise and vanish.”

“What we see,” explains Kuhn, reappearing, “is what we expect is going to happen in the future.”

“You mean that we typically see events that may not have happened?” asks the England captain.

“Yes, Andrew.  In many situations, we just don’t have enough time to wait for the brain to make its 150 millisecond calculations.  So at those moments we function on expectations rather than on reality.”  

“Magical,” says Monty.  “Effing far out,” says the wide eyed Cook.

Projecting a new image onto the screen, Andy Flower takes over centre stage.   “The way we see the world is often based on predictions.  But there may be something else going on too.”  (Third Man has placed a copy at the top of the page.)

“In this so-called Hering illusion, the straight lines near the central or ‘vanishing’ point appear to curve outward. The illusion occurs because our brains are predicting the way the underlying scene would look in the next moment if we were moving toward the middle point.”

And as fifteen pennies drop there a single hushed utterance is heard, “You mean …we can see into the future?”

“Well,” says Flower, “what we want you batsmen to realize is that you may get a glimpse of events at least one-tenth of a second before they occur and some of you, picking up on visual cues can cheat time even better.”

“Or think you can,” says Swann, clearly getting it.

For those for whom seeing is still believing , someone has kindly posted a recording of Dr Tatler on YouTube

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One response to “The Vanishing Cricket Ball Illusion – Seeing into the Future

  1. Pingback: Now and Then or Time for Cricket | Down At Third Man

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