Archive for the ‘Perception’ Category

IIlusory penguins

July 27, 2023

From my regular correspondent Ellen Kaisse yesterday:

I was walking around the grounds of a nearby high school and saw these black and white creatures off in the distance.

(#1) [AMZ:] Are those penguins, advancing upon us?

I knew they had to be football training sleds (see picture below of the closest thing I could find on the web), but they sure looked like penguins. I immediately thought of you. [AMZ: notorious penguin fan that I am]

(#2) [AMZ:] Football training sleds; you charge into them (I have actually done this)

I think if you enlarge the picture [in #1], it will keep looking like penguins, at least up to a certain magnification.

There’s a little lesson in perception here. If, for whatever reason, you are primed to search out certain things in your visual field, you are likely to “see” your target in some of the wrong places, in visuals that merely resemble the thing that so engages your attention. Penguins are one of my totem animals; I live surrounded by images of penguins and simulacra of penguins, and friends keep giving me more; so I’m attuned to penguins in a way that few other people are, and am inclined to unconsciously seek them out. Through long association with me, Ellen Kaisse has picked up some of this inclination. (My daughter and grandchild and various other friends who have been supplying me with penguiniana over the years have similarly gotten attuned to the flightless birds.)

I have written elsewhere on this blog about my perceptual sensitivity to the letter Z, ’cause I’m a Z guy. That occasionally leads me to misidentify symbols that merely resemble Z, or to fix on certain forms of the capital letter S as if they were Zs. For me, Zs lurk everywhere. (I notice spoken /z/ in much the same way, especially in word-initial position.)


Maternal shrillness on Zits

January 29, 2023

Today’s Zits strip manages to assemble three disparate bits of assumption about cognition into a joke about maternal shrillness:

(#1) So shrill — in particular, so high-pitched — that it takes a ladder to get up there and read what’s in the speech balloon

Whoa! You might not have subscribed to any or all of these cognitive stances built into the strip:

— conceptualizing speech and thought balloons as physical objects

— perceiving women’s speech as shrill — an impression that incorporates (among other things) sociocultural associations of high pitch and loudness with various personal and interactional states, and also the association of high pitch with femininity

— (metaphorically) associating high pitch with height above the ground


Pareidolia, they control ya

December 23, 2019

The Zippy from the 21st takes us into a world where hidden identities surround us everywhere:

(#1) Griffy gives the definition, and he and Zippy supply examples — in particular Karl Malden’s nose

Notes on pareidolia, on Karl Malden’s nose, and the Kinks’ “Destroyer”.


High steel Escher

October 25, 2019

A brief celebration of one of my favorite cartoons, on the occasion of a reproduction of it being installed in the Empire State Building. Rob Leighton’s Escher on high steel:

I’m trying to imagine the blueprints. Also, of course, how the workers got up there in the first place.


Hard Tundra

March 4, 2019

Adventures in cross-dialect understanding in the One Big Happy strips of 2/1 and 2/2, both featuring Ruthie and Joe’s playmate James:




The art class

May 23, 2018

Edward Steed cartoon in the May 21st New Yorker:

It’s about point of view (pov), especially as this reflects selective attention, an inclination to focus on certain things in the context over others.


What is figure, what is ground?

May 8, 2017

David Sipress in the latest (May 8th) New Yorker:


“I can’t remember—do I work at home or do I live at work?”

Which is the ground — home (living place) or workplace — and which is the figure — working or living?

A question framed in the caption as a chiasmus, abstractly of the form X … Y / Y … X?



July 22, 2016

Today’s Bizarro, on categories in the domain of sexuality and gender:


(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page.)

Some brief introductory words on homosexual, gay, and queer. Then on LGBTQ. And on to a recent NYT Magazine article on queer. Which leads, remarkably, to the Penrose triangle (of interest to scholars of both perception and art).


Falling trees

August 23, 2015

Yesterday’s Bizarro puts a fresh twist on an old philosophical puzzle:

Previously on this blog, a Zippy (posted 10/15/12) on a related theme, with the punning punch line:

If a red-breasted nuthatch sings in a forest & there’s no one there to google it, did it post a tweet?

So what does it refer to in the top panel? In the old conundrum, it refers to the falling of the tree. But in the bottom panel, it refers to the tree itself, which turns out to have the power of speech; it can certainly make a sound (of its own volition).



January 4, 2015

A continuing ad campaign for Febreze air freshener and odor eliminator products warns us about noseblindness,

The gradual acclimation to the smells of one’s home, car, or belongings, in which the affected does not notice them (even though their guests do). (link)

An illustration of a cat owner’s noseblindness, showing how visitors will perceive their house:

Noseblind is a fairly clever coinage for this sensory saturation effect, treating it as similar to being temporarily blinded by bright lights or deafened by loud noises. But it’s not truly similar to being blind or deaf. which are enduring and more global inabilities.