Motion Commotion


In Brain Games: Motion Commotion, host Jason Silva explores the many ways our brain makes the world around us move. Sometimes, motion is nothing more than a trick of your mind. In fact, some of the most common motions in our life are just an illusion. Here are three common things that aren’t moving quite the way we think.

Motion(less) Pictures

Watching television is a daily ritual for most people where we are witnessing just such a trick. We quickly get swept up in the fact that we are watching action and motion. However, the picture isn’t actually moving. Our brains just trick us into believing we are seeing seamless movement. What we are really seeing is a rapid succession of still images, which allows us to perceive motion. And we’re easily fooled by other illusions where perspective, combined with the rapid transition between images and their negatives, creates the illusion of motion like in this image:


Kind of makes you dizzy, huh? Want to see more? Check out this image and see if you can tell what’s really going on. 

Mercury in Retrograde

You’ve probably heard plenty of people who believe in astrology complain when Mercury goes into retrograde, meaning it appears to be moving backwards in the sky. Most of the planets and stars appear to be moving from west to east in their migration across the sky. However, every now and then, some of the planets seem to decide to go the other direction. Whether this is a mystical incident or not, the retrograde motion is nothing but an illusion of motion.

NASA explains that Earth and Mars are like race cars on an oval track. Earth has the inside lane and moves faster than Mars; so approximately every 26 months, Earth comes up from behind and overtakes Mars. When this happens, Mars appears to be moving backwards. This same phenomenon happens with other planets like Jupiter, which orbit further away from the sun as well. However, the backwards motion is just an illusion.

Slow Down/Freeze Frame

Some common illusions make moving objects seem to move in slow motion, or even freeze. The stroboscopic effect, which usually uses a flashing light can change the way our mind perceives motion. If you have ever been in a dance club when the strobe light was turned on and danced in “slow motion,” then you have experienced this illusion. Standard fluorescent light can cause the same phenomenon as they operate and flicker at 60Hz and cause a stroboscopic effect with any machinery which has parts, such as pulleys or gears, running at speeds that are a multiple of 60Hz. The stroboscopic effect will cause the machine to appear motionless, which could be a deadly hazard.

So what is motion, really? Is the movement that you see actually happening? Or is the wiring of your brain’s motion detectors merely being fooled? If you want answers, there is only one thing to do! Tune in to Brain Games: Motion Commotion tonight, Monday April 29, at 8 PM et/pt and find out…


  1. Jeff Janes
    Van Nuys CA
    May 5, 2013, 1:23 am

    Hi I have a question about perception and the subconscious.

    Remember those 3d images you could buy in the dept stores the looked like just random dots but if you focused your eyes the right way an image would pop out in 3d.

    Well what if you actually wrote a message in those pictures and then let people see them over and over again but not to allow them to focus and see the actual message. Does the subconscious actually see this every time and could it become a subliminal message.
    I am under the impression that as your eyes move over the image but before they try to focus on the actual dots as they pass through the stage of focusing on the dots them selves the eyes may actually hit the spot where the message becomes clear and readable by the subconscious but not quite by the conscious so it is not remembered or even acknowledged.
    I am not sure how the brain actually moves the eyes to focus on an object and what is interpreted by the brain during this process but it would be an interesting experiment. Something like “Eat crackers” in the message and then after prolonged exposure give them a choice of eating a snack bread or crackers. You would probably have to do it with something they would have an indifference to so there is no bias. Or you could possibly suggest an action like itching your ear.

    Would be interesting to see. Please if you can let me know if I am way off base in thinking that this is possible.

    It may even be a good segment of a show

    Thanks for your time
    Love the Brain Games show