Have a look at the picture below and answer this simple question:
Which square is darker – A or B?
(Don’t scroll down and read the text until you’ve answered the question.)
That’s right – the correct answer is ‘neither’. Squares A and B are exactly the same colour and shade.
Don’t believe me? I must admit I was sceptical myself. Have a look at this next image – which blanks out the rest of the picture, except squares A and B and the edges of the squares next to them:
If you’re still not convinced, you can print out the image and fold or cut the paper so that you can see squares A and B side-by-side.
They say seeing is believing. But after looking at this image many times I’m not so sure.
The first time I saw it, I was convinced the two squares were completely different shades. That’s why I asked Tony Clark – our resident graphics wizard – to create the animations. Now I trust Tony implicitly, but when I saw this I was convinced the squares changed colour in the second frame. So I asked him as tactfully as I could whether he hadn’t messed with the squares. Here’s his reply:
I was the one doing it and still was fooled. The proof was that in Photoshop I used the same exact color to shade out the “A” and “B” – so it really is the same color 🙂
How can an illusion be so powerful that it even fools the person creating it? Because of the way our brains are wired – we’ve evolved to notice differences (such as a movement among motionless trees) and to be highly sensitive to context (such as the shades of adjacent squares). These abilities are so important to survival that it’s almost impossible to override them. Which means the squares still look different even when we ‘logically’ know they are the same.
What Does This Have To Do with Creativity?
Remember the spinning lady? Which way did she spin for you? What did you conclude from that?
I was fascinated by the comments on Brian’s post, as they mirrored my own responses when I first saw the spinning lady. Like most people I saw her spinning counter-clockwise at first – which, according to the conventional explanation means I’m more left brained and logical than right brained and creative. How do you think that made the poet/creative coach feel?
Reading through the comments I recognized my own mixed thoughts when I first saw the illusion. Some people were convinced it was going one way, some were certain it was going the other. Some said it was clearly going one way then changing direction. Some said it was obviously a hoax. Some were pleased because it confirmed their image of themselves as left or right brained. Some were disappointed that it meant they weren’t ‘creative’ enough.
Can you see how black-and-white this kind of thinking is? As soon as we see the image, we want to put it – and ourselves – into a mental category as quickly as possible. Clockwise or counter-clockwise? Left brain or right brain? Logical or creative? Real or hoax? We feel uncomfortable with ambiguity, shades of grey and subtle distinctions.
Hardly any of the commenters responded to Brian’s assertion that “your left brain plays a crucial role in creativity as well”, and his questioning of the conventional wisdom about brain hemispheres and creativity:
Weigh in with your opinion about the right brain versus left brain for creativity… isn’t it really a “whole mind” thing?
The ‘whole mind’ concept of creativity is like the true appearance of the two squares on the chessboard: it’s staring us in the face but we can’t see it because of the black-and-white shades competing for our attention.
From Illusions to Reality
But these are just illusions, a bit of harmless fun – right? Well see what you make of these examples of real-life black-and-white thinking:
This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.
Western Union internal memo
Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.
Drillers whom Edwin Drake tried to engage in his enterprise to make money from drilling for oil
Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction
Pierre Pachet, professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872
What would I do? I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.
Michael Dell on Apple ten years ago
Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?
H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927
We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.
Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962
Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.
Irving Fisher, professor of economics, Yale University, 1929
DOS addresses only 1 megabyte of RAM because we cannot imagine any applications needing more.
Windows NT addresses 2 GB of RAM which is more than any application will ever need.
Microsoft, a few years later
Everything that can be invented has been invented.
Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899
How about You?
What do you make of the chessboard illusion?
Have you ever got stuck in black-and-white thinking?
Have you ever broken out of it? What did you discover?