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It’s all in the spin

“Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul
Nor beauty born out of its own despair
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil
O Chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance
How can we tell the dancer from the dance?”
William Butler Yeats

Which way is the dancer turning? Clockwise or anticlockwise?

According to the Perth News site which this image originally appeared on, if you see her spinning anticlockwise then you tend to have your left brain functions predominating. A clockwise spin indicates more of a right brain dominance.

Spinning dancer

The left side of the brain is associated with processing that is logical, detailed, factual, practical, reasoned, linear, sequential and expressed in language. It controls the right (L. dexter) side of the body. The right side deals more with processing that is intuitive, non-verbal, imaginary, holistic, random, symbolic, relational, philosophical, and spatial, controlling the left, (L. sinister) side of the body.

Rather than being any indication of brain functioning dominance however, logic would say this is just a simple, though very nicely executed, optical illusion which calls on the same image and spatial interpretation functions in the brain regardless of which way we see the dancer turning. The image has been doing the rounds for a few months now. Most people responding in comment sections seem able to make the dancer change direction at will after a bit of practice, and most seem to see her rotating clockwise initially.

What I find more interesting than any putative brain dominance diagnosis is the number of comments from people utterly convinced the dancer’s change in direction is programmed into the image file and that the whole thing is a fraud. It’s not – it’s just a 34-frame animated gif which cycles through the images (anticlockwise) in a continuous loop – but it shows very nicely the extent to which we’re willing to believe reality is “out there” rather than constructed in our heads.

(Occasional stutters in the image rendering can be sufficient to break the illusion and ’cause’ the dancer to ‘change direction’, but it’s all in the brain.)

“All life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward internal dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other.”
H P Lovecraft

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6 Responses to “It’s all in the spin”

  1. Bob Silver says:

    This really throws me as it seems to definitely be a clockwise movement (implying right brain dominance) and I’m an engineer by training.

  2. Wendy says:

    Which is one of the reasons I doubt very much it has anything to do with brain dominance! Evidently most people see it rotating clockwise initially. Which is interesting because the images in the underlying file cycle anticlockwise.

  3. Bob Silver says:

    OK, so it’s not just me; I feel a little better. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Wendy says:

    Well like I said in the blog, logic would say an optical illusion like this is calling on the same image and spatial interpretation functions in the brain regardless of which way we see the dancer turning, but if there’s any validity in the graphic’s ability to distinguish left-brain/right-brain thinking, then perhaps the majority of people see it turning clockwise initially because in order to simulate the illusion of a dancer turning in 3D, they’re using right-brain relational/spatial functions?

    I saw it turning anti-clockwise initially, and tend to come out with equal dominance on the standard left-brain/right-brain tests. But then since the mind isn’t entirely localised to the brain in any case, and is quite capable of remapping some of its functions if brain tissue is damaged, the whole question seems largely academic. Oops, there goes another theory …

  5. Bob Silver says:

    Totally weird, I pulled up the image again and this time it was distinctly spinning counter clockwise. No matter what I do it doesn’t rotate the way I originally saw it this afternoon. Go figure.

    It’s an interesting illusion no matter what the real reason is for seeing turn one way or the other.

  6. Wendy says:

    Me and my son found that if you look away from the image for a moment, and then slowly come back to it at the bottom left or bottom right corner, momentarily resisting the temptation to ‘interpret’ the feet in 3D, you can make it switch direction at will. With a bit of practice you can do this with any part of the image and without looking away. It can get to be quite fun as you can make the dancer appear to be just hopping on the spot turning her other foot out to the left, then out to the right and back again! It seems to be just a matter of breaking the 3D illusion long enough to recreate it in a different direction.

    Kudos to whoever put this together. It’s really nicely done.

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smeddum.net - Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard