Neuroscientist Patrick Cavanagh says that “It’s really important to understand we’re not seeing reality.” What we’re seeing instead is “a story that’s being created for us.” In most cases, our brains generate stories that match the physical world, but as we see below in the post, that’s not always the case.
So what if it sees not what there is, but quite literally what we tell it to see? ‘Misleading Thumbnails,’ a subreddit community that shares misleading titles added to images, completely changing what our brain sees in them, may have some answers.
“Not always what you think,” states their slogan, so you get the idea. Let’s get ready to be bamboozled and be sure to check out our previous post with more pictures with misleading thumbnails.
“As humans, we’re fascinated by optical illusions both because they are a symbol of human creativity and because they demonstrate just how good we are at flexible thinking,” Lisa Yaszek told Bored Panda. Lisa is a Regents Professor of Science Fiction Studies at Georgia Tech where she researches and teaches science fiction as a global language crossing centuries, continents, and cultures.
There is something inherently pleasing about the ability to perceive an image in different ways, argued Lisa, and she wondered if it’s “perhaps it’s part of our natural aptitude for learning.”
“Whatever the source of our love for optical illusions, it’s fascinating to note that the desire to create optical illusions seems to be as old as humanity itself. The prehistoric artists who decorated the Cave of Altima 20,000 years ago used the natural bulges in the rock walls of the cave to give volume and depth to the animals they drew there; the Greek-Egyptian inventor Heron of Alexandria (10CE-70AD) engineered a device that made it look like priests could open temple doors with verbal commands; and the Airavatesvara Temple in India is covered in 800+ year old carvings of animals that change species when viewed from different angles.”
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The professor said that it’s no surprise that we are in a moment of renewed fascination with optical illusions, as the above examples suggest. “Whenever people invent new creative or technical processes, they use them to create optical illusions! Indeed, we’ve seen this throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: pioneering filmmakers like George Melies drew on vaudeville stagecraft and scratched and painted on celluloid to create the first filmic special effects; Op artists Josef Albers and Bridgette Riley manipulated geometric forms on canvas to convince the eye that unreal spatial places existed; and today we have digital technologies that allow us to radically transform the scale and presentation of images in sometimes truly mind-blowing ways, as we see in these images from the 'Misleading Thumbnails' subreddit community!”
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“Of course, there is one difference between earlier optical illusion artists and the ones featured on this subreddit,” Lisa noted and continued: “the former were intentional about creating their optical illusions, while the ones featured on this subreddit probably didn’t mean, for instance, to make a group of adorable puppies look like fried chicken.”
“Having said that—these accidental optical illusions give the members of this subreddit community a chance to become artists themselves by posting the misleading thumbnails and images online so that others can delight in the illusion with them,” she concluded.
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Previously, Bored Panda spoke with the moderator team of the Misleading Thumbnails subreddit, who shared some insights on their community. The moderator u/pajam said that r/misleadingthumbnails was created by a user named Noot 9 years ago when he was “scrolling through Reddit and came across this thumbnail.”
The creator couldn't imagine this not being some sort of NSFW image, but then when he opened it and saw the full-size image, he realized it was just a baby pig between two other pigs. “So he was misled by the thumbnail, and thought it was a unique experience blending optical illusions with a sort of 'mind-blown' experience.”
At that point, they realized there was no similar subreddit like this, and the Misleading Thumbnails subreddit was born. Since its creation in 2011, the subreddit is home to 492k members, or as they call them ‘’bamboozled ones.’’
However, the evolution of the subreddit has become somewhat “frustrating” since Reddit changed its default design. The moderator explained that it used to include thumbnails for every single post, which was normal practice for over a decade.
After there were no thumbnails left, the Misleading Thumbnails made fewer sense with the new design. “New Reddit has made 'Card View' the default view for new users, thus those users won't see any thumbnails whatsoever unless they actively switch to 'Classic View' or change their settings to use the 'Old Reddit' design.”
This proved to be a particular frustration to new members who struggled to get the concept of the whole subreddit. The moderator explained that new viewers would instead treat it like the plethora of other 'Misleading Images' subreddits (/r/Pareidolia, /r/confusing_perspective, /r/forbiddensnacks, etc.). And that wasn’t its original idea.
But the moderator said their community stays positive. After all, Misleading Thumbnails still has a lot of redditors who prefer the old Reddit design as “most users were redditors before the redesign” and “they are passionate users about keeping the subreddit true to its roots.” The new ones, though, find the subreddit appealing for different reasons, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting.
Misleading Thumbnails gets an average of 1 to 30 posts a day, and according to the mod team, their content is limited and comes in waves, “as it relies on random chance.”
Turns out, you can never guess “what images will end up looking different when it gets shrunk down to Reddit's thumbnail size.” However, when it happens, it's a pleasant surprise for everyone, and “we'd love people to share those posts here.”
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When it comes to the meaning of “Misleading Thumbnails,” u/pajam explained that it refers to “the experience of scrolling through Reddit, browsing the post titles and thumbnails... then seeing a thumbnail that your brain can't imagine could be anything else besides what it assumes it is looking at.”
The idea is that when you click on the post to see its full size, you get really confused. The mod explained this feeling: “your mind gets blown as the image looks entirely different now.” Somehow the act of shrinking the image down to the size of a tiny Reddit thumbnail unexpectedly causes a unique optical illusion. Add a misleading title to it, and you get your brain seeing things that weren't ever there.