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Mind Bomb 36: #TheDress explained in simple English

Photo Credit: skiwed

Photo Credit: skiwed

Photo Credit: Roman Originals

Photo Credit: Roman Originals

We are experiencing one of the most spontaneous trivial debate that took most of our office hours today. Finally, procrastinating in front of your computer is worthwhile to solve a sudden mystery of life.

Not long after it was posted by singer Caitlin McNeill on Tumblr, the internet became divided into the Blue-Black and White-Gold teams, in which a surprising majority of online polls conducted puts White-Gold ahead of the dress' actual colour, Blue-Black, which has been confirmed by the company that designed the dress, Roman Originals.

"White Gold" as a term is even trending on twitter along side #TheDress, with "Black Blue" no where to be seen.

Of all the explanations, expert opinions and graphs, here's the reason for #TheDress illusion, explained in simple English.

Photo Credit: Skiwed

Photo Credit: Skiwed

The colour of the dress that an individual sees in the photo is mainly due to the lighting surrounding the dress rather than the dress itself.

The original photo, honestly taken quite casually (in other words, badly), puts it in a sweet spot of confusion by giving it an overall "warmer" tone.

This is where science comes in - just like how I mentioned in my "how illusions work" article, our brain takes shortcuts when dealing with the huge data of processing reality.

Most of the time it works, sometimes museums and parks make you pay to experience and enjoy visual illusions due to our brains' shortcomings, and in the case of #TheDress, brought what would most probably the weirdest memorable day of 2015.

When we look at an object in sunlight, our brain assumes the colour of the sunlight will distort the "real" colours of the object, and will decide to ignore it, helping us see the world in its "true" view.

This is known as discounting the chromatic bias of the daylight axis, a neurological process to "correct" one's perspective in an environment where daylight changes depending on its position. Daylight is quite different during different times of the day.

Here's an example. Say it is in the late afternoon and the Sun is setting, giving off its distinctive red shade. We still see the leaves of the trees as green, because our brain has worked out that the red light will distort our perspective of the "real" colours of the world, and goes on to ignore it.

When we view the photo, our brain thinks that it is in daylight, and because of how it works, its first task (that we don't notice) is to eliminate the illuminant, thus showing us the "real" colours of the things we see.

And this is where the divide occurs. We do not see colours the same way others do, the way my brain assumes and compensates to see "real" colours will differ from some of the people around me.

As Bevil Conway, a neuroscientist who studies colour and vision at Wellesley College tells WIRED, in the case of #TheDress, the two main oppositions differ on their brains subconscious decision to discount on either the blue side (meaning you see White-Gold) or gold side (meaning you see Black-Blue).

That difference in what colour to ignore resulted in 2 very distinct perspectives. But such individual differences are common, but as Jay Neitz, a neuroscientist at the University of Washington tells WIRED, this is one of the biggest individual difference he had ever seen in his 30 year career.

However, even if you understand the science behind this unintentional illusion, you will not be able to change your view of #TheDress without altering the image itself.

For those who seem to be able to flicker between White-Gold and Black-Blue uncontrollably, and those who seem to see other colours like orange or brown, you make up the minority in a crowd of 2 distinct groups that share their individual perception.

For those who see White-Gold, you are wrong, though understandably so. But if it is any consolation, even the Prime Minster of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong jumped onto the bandwagon and shares your view.

As for those who saw Black-Blue, like I did, we are right, so give yourself a pat on the back.

And lastly for those who suddenly found a higher calling to bring humanity back to sanity from this seemingly ridiculous episode, let us have our fun, what's the cost of it?

There are other ways to explain this viral illusion. AsapSCIENCE explained it using the concept of Colour Constancy, which also agrees that the primary reason for this illusion is due to the brain's assumptions on the content in which the dress is in.

In their hypothesis, they feel the divide is caused by a difference in preference over whether the dress was lit under natural or artificial light. As there is not enough clues in the picture to determine the source, the brain will have based its decision on assumptions.

P.S. Check out this very interesting video by Michael from Vsauce on more about colour perception.

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