Tricked by Time: Why Your Brain Sees Expanding Black Holes

The obsidian void before us resembles a profoundly recessed abyss, ceaselessly accelerating and burgeoning, poised to engulf the entire world. Our instinctive response is one of trepidation, withdrawal, and retreat. Yet, this purported black hole is nothing but a static tableau: elliptical obsidian blotches are methodically dispersed upon an alabaster canvas, and at the epicenter lies the vast black aperture with edges gradually dissolving.

Though we have been apprised, or have deduced through tactile exploration, that it is indeed a frozen tableau, what recurrently manifests before our eyes is an expanding black hole, seemingly attuned to the pulsation of life. It imparts an indistinct yet imperative sense of heartbeat.

Why does our vision disregard the veracity presented before us and steadfastly communicate an evident illusion?

A collaborative experiment conducted by the University of Oslo in Norway and Ritsumeikan University in Japan seeks to elucidate this phenomenon. As detailed in the researchers’ treatise published in “Frontiers of Human Neurology,” the experiment involved affixing infrared pupil monitors onto 50 individuals with normal vision, tasking them with contemplating various renditions of the aforementioned black hole images.

Human pupils typically dilate in response to luminosity. However, empirical findings reveal that despite the constancy of laboratory illumination, the pupils of the majority dilate upon encountering the black hole imagery. Furthermore, the degree of dilation corresponds to the observer’s perception of the black hole’s illusory expansion. An additional 14% exhibited neither delusions nor alterations in their pupils.

The treatise posits that this phenomenon can be explicated as “momentary perception” in vision (perceiving the present): “Both dynamic illusion and pupil accommodation represent the perception of the next moment based on the common experience of the ecological laws of light. “Remedial mechanism.”

In layman’s terms, it can be construed as follows: following sensory reception, the eyes transmit the information to the brain, which analyzes the received data before rendering visual judgments. Though this process spans a mere 13 milliseconds, it proves inadequate in managing the ever-fluctuating natural realm—where milliseconds often delineate the chasm between survival and demise. Consequently, the brain anticipates impending occurrences based on the collective human experience of the environment and proactively instructs the pupils to prepare for forthcoming changes.

Certainly, in the experiment, the black hole was fictitious, yet the directive to dilate the pupils had been issued, and the eyes involuntarily perceived the expanding black hole. Actual visual information compels the brain to endeavor corresponding adjustments. This may account for the pulsating sensation. The authors of the treatise designate this as the brain’s “continuous guessing mode,” a mechanism to arrive at the optimal visual solution.

In essence, continual conjecture may well constitute the customary mode of vision. The configuration of the human retina dictates the existence of a blind spot that eludes eradication. Nevertheless, the brain diligently and promptly supplements the absent visual information grounded in human experience and the surrounding milieu. This supplementation approaches perfection—until more than three centuries ago, humanity remained oblivious to the existence of blind spots.

The brain, in its subjectivity and proactivity, plays a pivotal role in aiding the eyes to “see” the world. Its merits are resplendent, contributing immeasurably to the survival and evolution of humankind. Yet, armed with such an all-encompassing apparatus as the brain, we cannot help but pose the query: Are the sights beheld through our own eyes truly reflective of the actualities in existence? Or are they constructs the brain imposes upon us of its own volition?

“Seeing is believing” stands as our enduring conviction. Given that the most dependable visual cognizance may be fabricated, might not other sensory perceptions—such as hearing, olfaction, taste, and the like—be more susceptible to illusion? Even sensory knowledge derived from direct encounters proves unverifiable. If such is the case, then notions, perspectives, judgments, ideas, and beliefs, divorced from direct experience, become conceivable figments of imagination.

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