Back in 2015, before Brexit, before Clinton vs. Trump, before weaponized Macedonian internet trolls, one NPR affiliate called the mass epistemic crisis created by The Dress, “The debate that broke the internet,” and The Washington Post referred to that moment of widespread existential confusion as “The drama that divided the planet.”
This episode is about the science behind The Dress, why some people see it as black and blue, and others see it as white and gold. But it’s also about how the scientific investigation of The Dress lead to the scientific investigation of socks and Crocs, and how the scientific investigation of socks and Crocs may be, as one researcher told me, the nuclear bomb of cognitive neuroscience.
“How do people construct the subjective reality they inhabit?” That’s the question at the center of the work of Pascal Wallisch, who studies how human beings differ in the their interpretations of the objective truth. As part of that work, he has been the go-to scientist when it comes to making sense of The Dress, the Yanny/Laurel illusion, and several other viral phenomena on the internet. In 2017, he produced a study explaining exactly why some people saw the dress as one color, and others saw it as another. And in 2019, he produced another study replicating the conditions of the dress in the lab using socks and Crocs.
Michael Karlovich is a cognitive scientist and vision researcher who explores “computational methods to create digital art, and to combine these novel methods with principles of visual-neuroscience and gestalt psychology to produce visual displays that ‘captures the brain’s attention,’ and further, produce positive impressions within a majority of viewers.”
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