The Spinning Dancer: left brain/right brain optical illusion

The Right Brain vs Left Brain test … do you see the dancer turning clockwise or anti-clockwise?

If clockwise, then you use more of the right side of the brain and vice versa.

I first saw this about a couple two or three years ago.  The ‘spinning dancer’ optical illusion has made its rounds on the internet for a few years.  I would surmise that more of you than not have seen it, pondered it, probably even argued about it.  Most of you probably then forgot about it.  From what I could conclude, it was an unexplained phenomenon.  And believe me when I tell you, I scoured the internet in search of an explanation of the mechanics involved with creating an animation in which a dancer appeared to spin different directions to different people, and different directions to the same person at different times.   I could not stop looking at it, thinking about it, and trying to figure out how it worked.  Clearly, the dancer isn’t moving both directions at once.   Yet different people see it spin in different directions, reverse direction at different times and without appearing to actually change direction.  There was nothing in the animation code that could explain the trick.  I asked the smartest people I knew and read everything I could find on this ‘spinning dancer’.  I read anything I could find remotely pertaining to such visual phenomena .  Nothing or nobody could provide a satisfactory explanation – or even a reasonable hypothesis – of what was really going on . Then one day, while doing and thinking about something entirely unrelated, I had an “ah-a” moment. I am relatively certain that this is how it works…

The dancer turning in full circles, either direction, implies a three-dimensional being turning in three-dimensional space. But what we are seeing, in fact, is a two-dimensional image on a two-dimensional screen. The dancer, therefore, is not turning in a circle at all. She can’t rotate in a circle, which is movement within three-dimensional space, because she is herself two-dimensional!   With deft animation skill, the artist articulates the motion of a 2-D illustration in such a manner as to trick our brains, so to speak.  The dancer only appears to spin completely around – which if were true would infer, by the laws of physics that govern our world, that she is a three-dimensional dancer spinning in three-dimensional space.  If the dancer were spinning in circles, she would spin one direction or the other – clockwise or counter-clockwise.  But since she is not actually spinning, the subconscious mind makes an arbitrary decision, as to which direction she turns.  Our brain reconciles what appears to be with what really is by seamlessly filling  in a rational perception that complies with the laws of physics as they apply to the world as we know it.  That subconscious determination is then transmitted to our conscious mind.  In other words, the subconsciously provides us with a perception of either a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction.  The side of the brain which dominates our perceptual experience determines which direction she spins.   Furthermore, once that determination is made it tends to stick.  We don’t see any reversal of direction, so any appearance of such would  not conform to reason.  This is why it is so enigmatic.  We see her going one direction, then another, then back.  To satisfy our rational nature, we decide that the only explanation is that she changes direction.  When someone sitting next to us,  looking at the same moving picture swears, as incomprehensible as it may seem,  that they see her going a different direction, then changing direction at a different time –  it confounds and frustrates even to the point of instigation heated disagreement.  The disagreement between people’s perceptions can only be reconciled by concluding that it is an optical illusion.  But then what?  How is the illusion created?  This question, which has bugged and nagged me for months, for lack of a satisfactory solution or even a plausible theory.  I am reasonably confident – no, I am certain – that this is how thespinning dancer’ optical illusion works.

If anyone can substantiate a better theory, or further support mine, please share in the comments section below.

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