BLINDED WITH SCIENCE: Neuroscientist David Carmel asks the audience to discover their blind spot. (Photo: Colleen Goodhue)
Last Wednesday, I was delighted to attend my first of what I hope will be many meetings of the Secret Science Club.
The club is a science lecture, arts and performance series held at the Bell House, a popular venue in Gowanus, Brooklyn, N.Y. Some goals of the series are to celebrate science and bridge science, humanities and art. The club provides free or low-cost events to the public at this bar, which generally serves up a themed cocktail. The evening I attended, the drink was called Gray Matter.
David Carmel, neuroscientist from NYU's Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science, gave a lecture on how sensory perception — in this case visual — affects how we view the world. He started off the evening, to a packed house, with some background information on neurons. He continued talking about the work of some scientists studying sensory perception. The audience was delighted to participate in some experiments like finding their blind spot, the Invisible Gorilla test and some optical illusions.
This one is my favorite. You can see either two sticks crossing each other, changing which is in the foreground and which is in the background. Or you can see a cross whose top and bottom keep shrinking and growing. Or you can see a white plane with a cross shaped hole cut in it with a black ellipse rotating behind it. Or you can see a white plane with an ellipse cut out of it rotating in front of a black cross.
It took me a while to see them all too.
He explained that though you may be able to see each of them, you can only actually see one of them at a time. Then he delved into his own research on motion induced blindness and cognition. When you use 3D glasses, you are seeing two images superimposed on one another. If one of them is a moving image and one is static, your brain will pay attention to the moving image. In his research though, he found that your subconscious also sees and remembers the static image — even if your conscious doesn't. Though he isn't quite sure what the information will be used for, he did comment that it was "fun!"
After explaining and demonstrating his science to us, I realized that he had taken us on a journey from some basic "optical illusions" to fascinating new neuroscience theory. Science is pretty cool — especially cool when a scientist gets to bust out of their lab, have a beer and explain it to a willing, not-being-tested-later audience.
The Secret Science Club features lectures on Quantum Physics, Archaeology, the Census of Marine Life and pretty much all else you could imagine. The host free monthly events at the Bell House in Brooklyn and accept funding from their Kickstarter account.
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