Back in 2015, Before Brexit, before Trump, before Macedonian internet trolls, before QAnon and Covid conspiracy theories, before fake news and alternative facts, an NPR affiliate described the disagreement over dresses as “breaking Internet Debate”. Washington post Call it “The Drama of the Split Earth”.
The dress was a meme, a viral photo that has been on social media for months. For some, when they looked at the photo, they saw a black and blue dress. To others, the dress looks white and gold. Whatever one sees, it is impossible to see it differently. If it weren’t for the social aspect of social media, you’d probably never know that some people do feel differently about it.But since social media Yes Socializing, learning about the fact that millions of people see clothes that are different from yours elicited a wide-ranging heartfelt response. The person who saw the other dress looked clear, clearly wrong, and most likely unhinged. When the dresses started circulating on the internet, a sense of fear about the nature of the real and the unreal spread just like the image itself.
At times, this perceptual conundrum is shared and debated by so many people that Twitter doesn’t load on their devices. The hashtag #TheDress appeared in 11,000 tweets every minute, while the definitive article on memes posted on WIRED’s website garnered 32.8 million unique views in its first few days.
For many, the dress is an introduction to what neuroscience has long understood: the fact that reality itself is not a perfect one-to-one description of the world around us, as we experience it. As you experience it, the world is a simulation running inside your skull, a lucid dream. Each of us lives in a perpetual virtual landscape of imagination and self-generated hallucinations, an illusion informed by our senses and thoughts throughout our lives, as we bring new experiences through those senses And keep updating by thinking about new ideas we perceive. If you don’t know this, for many, the dress requires you to either yell into the abyss with your keyboard or sit back and think about your place in the grand scheme of things.
before the dress, It is well known in neuroscience that all reality is virtual; therefore, consensus reality is largely a consequence of geography. People who grew up in similar environments around similar people tend to have similar brains, and therefore similar virtual reality. If they do disagree, it’s usually because of the idea, not the raw truth they perceive.
After putting on the gown, all right—enter Pascal Wallisch, a neuroscientist at NYU who studies consciousness and perception. When Pascal first saw the dress, he thought it was clearly white and gold, but when he showed it to his wife, she saw something different. She said it was clearly black and blue. “I kept thinking about what would explain that that night.”
Thanks to years of research into the photoreceptors in the retina and the neurons they connect to, he thought he understood about 30 steps in the visual processing chain, but “all of these were blown up in February 2015, when the dress surfaced. The water. Social media.” He felt like a biologist, learning that doctors had just discovered a new organ in the body.