The Best Optical Illusions of 2016, According to a Bunch of Scientists

Best Optical Illusions
YouTube | @TheIllusioncontest
YouTube | @TheIllusioncontest

Every year the Neural Correlate Society makes a list the best illusions of the year. These aren't the tricks that got Gob thrown out of The Alliance of Magicians. They're optical illusions that push the brain's ability to process "perceptual experiences that do not match the physical reality."

The organization looks at optical illusions as a form of discovery. "How we see the outside world―our perception―is generated indirectly by brain mechanisms," the organization writes, "and so all perception is illusory to some extent. The study of illusions is critical to how we understand sensory perception, and many ophthalmic and neurological diseases."

The puzzling illusions they select make that whole blue dress/gold dress thing look pretty tame. Below are the top four illusions of 2016, as judged by the Neural Correlate Society.

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Fourth place went to "Caught inside a bubble," which employs a couple different illusions at once. It alternates colored concentric circles with monochromatic gray circles that adopt new colors through the afterimage of the colored circles.

"The intriguing thing is that the colors of the bubbles appear to be completely different, depending on the size of the bubble," write the contest judges. "Each bubble ‘captures’ the afterimage of the bull’s eye color that matches the size of the bubble."

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Third place went to "Silhouette Zoetrope." It's fairly familiar looking if you've seen an old zoetrope, but this illusion has a unique twist. The images that are normally inside the zoetrope creating the illusion of movement are moved to the outside.

Zoetropes create apparent motion when a series of similar images pass in rapid succession. Much like early animation, our brain fills in the gaps. "When the Silhouette Zoetrope is rotated, the slots strobe behind the cutout images, animating them apparently inside the empty slotted cylinder, which creates the illusion of moving silhouettes placed into space," write the judges.

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"Ambiguous Cylinder Illusion" took second place with a mind-boggling illusion that might make you never trust your eyes again. The 3-D printed objects appear as a diamond or cylinder based on the viewer's perspective. 

"In one view they appear to be rectangles, while in the other view they appear to be circles," explain the judges. "We cannot correct our interpretations although we logically know that they come from the same objects. Even if the object is rotated in front of a viewer, it is difficult to understand the true shape of the object, and thus the illusion does not disappear."

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And 2016's best illusion is "Motion Integration Unleashed: New Tricks for an Old Dog," which uses a familiar optical illusion, but on a large scale. It moves and evolves in a way that is hard to process and understand in real time.

"Previous illusions have demonstrated that drifting Gabors that translate across the visual field can appear to move in the wrong direction (i.e. in a direction that is different than the actual translation)," say the judges.

The videos have some great music to accompany the illusions, but you may want some more traditional illusion-accompanying music as you check out the complete top 10 best illusions of the year at their website.

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Dustin Nelson is a News Writer with Thrillist. Follow him @dlukenelson.