Is it a Mirage?

In this week’s episode of Brain Games the team explores the things we think we see. Our brain processes an amazing amount of information and sometimes it takes short cuts to make sense of our world. This means that what you perceive may be different from what you are actually viewing. When you watch the show you will witness mind-bending illusions that show you the ways in which your visual perceptions can be surprisingly off. You’ll find that your brain turns beautiful people into scary monsters, and reduces giants to miniatures.

What about everyday life, though? Are there moments when you experience illusions? Yes, in fact! Natural mirages are a common occurrence. A mirage is a natural phenomenon that is caused by atmospheric conditions.

Inferior Mirage

Inferior mirages are the mirages most people think of when they hear “mirage”. Have you ever seen water wavering in the distance on hot asphalt or across the hot desert sand? That is an inferior mirage.  This isn’t actually a lesser mirage, however. It is labeled “inferior” because the image is below the real object. Inferior mirages can be seen anywhere when a surface is hotter than the air above it.

Superior Mirage

Superior mirages are then of course, images that appear above an object. This sort of mirage is not as common as the inferior version. It may result in an object appearing to be stretched as well as elevated or even make distant objects appear to float above the horizon. If you ever look out across the ocean and see a sailboat that looks to be floating above the water and across the sky, you are probably not seeing a ghost boat. What you are witnessing is the optical illusion of a superior mirage.

Fata Morgana

A Fata Morgana, named after King Arthur’s sorceress half-sister, is a very complex superior mirage and common in the arctic regions. Distant objects may appear distorted as well as elongated vertically. So a flat shoreline may seem to have tall cliffs and columns that are not actually there. Normally recognizable landmarks may be distorted to the point of being unrecognizable. It is even possible for a Fata Morgana to create a false wall of water above the ocean horizon. Some scientists speculate that it may have been Fata Morgana mirage that doomed the Titanic, obscuring icebergs from the clear view of crew on board the Titanic. In fact, the nearby SS Californian reported sightings consistent with such mirages.

Even in nature, what your mind tells you that you are seeing may not be what is on the horizon. On Brain Games, host Jason Silva, deception specialist Apollo Robbins, and psychologist Dr. Daniel Simons will explore the idea that, even when your brain makes its best guess, the world you see is not quite accurate. Curious about how else your sight might be deceiving you? Tune in the Brain Games: Seeing is Believing Monday May 27 at 9PM et/pt and find out!


  1. Ken
    May 31, 2013, 9:48 pm

    I’m not sure my comment applies to this particular episode. I’m watching on May 31. We’re asked to close our eyes and identify a sound. While you are olaying the sound we are supposed to try to identify, YOU ARE PLAYING BACKGOUND MUSIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A

  2. Ken
    May 31, 2013, 9:56 pm

    Oops! Hit the wrong key before I finished. You ask us to close our eyes and identify a sound. While you are playing the sound we are supposed to try to identify, YOU ARE PLAYING BACKGROUND MUSIC!!!!!!! WHAT THE…? For a show called “Brain Games”, you have some idiots in charge!!!!! My dad used to say every generation was getting smarter. Not sure he’d say that anymore.