They’ll trick your eyes, mess with your mind, and make you question reality.
For centuries, optical illusions have used our visual shortcuts and brain inklings against us, turning everyday objects into false 3D images, strange floating ships, and seriously confusing arguments. Let’s take a look—and then take another—at some classic and contemporary illusions.
You love weird science. So do we. Let’s nerd out over it together.
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Is This a Rabbit or a Raven?
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Please Circle Your Squares
Many viewers look at this illusion and see elaborately decorated rectangles, like picture frame decorations or panels on a coffer. But if you look again, the effect is made by floating circles that are perpendicular to the striped background.
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The 2019 Optical Illusion of the Year is a looping shape that appears to spin horizontally or vertically depending on how you look. This one is, well, a real head spinner.
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Just One Shade of Gray
Earlier this year, MIT researchers published new experiments exploring an old illusion. These two stones are the same color—so why do we see them differently?
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Even Our Ancestors Weren’t Sure
This prehistoric stone carving depicts what experts believe is the earliest known “duck rabbit”-style dual illusion. With a keen eye, you can see both a buffalo and a mammoth.
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Superluminal Optical Illusion
This illusion happens when a bicycle travels at the speed of light while a pair of human eyes looks on. And surprisingly, trying to understand it is an important physics problem.
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A Tale of a Fata-ful Trip
A fata morgana is a naturally occurring optical phenomenon where layers of cold and hot air distort what we see at the horizon. In this case, it’s caused a phantom boat to float in midair.
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The Disappearing Act
Sometimes, like a movie T. rex, we can only see things that continue to move. In this illusion, the pastel colors slowly fade away until they disappear. Try it!
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Gianni Sarcone’s animated version of the classic Müller-Lyon illusion features line segments that are always the same size as parts move around them. Keep watching—it never gets any less weird to think about.
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The Wonderland Foyer
This waving tile floor is the result of careful tile cutting, creating an illusion of forced perspective. For people in older apartment buildings, this could just look like a bad maintenance day.