Our Brain is Truly Wonderful!

There was an interesting article on PsychWorld last week. It points out how us humans, as intelligent creatures, have a pretty remarkable ability to recognize faces. But what would happen if the faces we see got obscured in some way? Like upside-down heads with inverted eyes and lips? How about if they were made into pixelized blocks, for instance? Would we still able to make out who might be depicted in those obscured images?

These pixelized block portraits were inspired by Leon Harmon and Bela Julesz’s 1973 Lincoln Illusion. If I’m right, there should be no problem for you to recognize who are the famous people in the following images.

Try squinting your eyes as much as you can, or look from afar if you need to. The only thing that might prevent you from recognizing the correct celebrity, is if you are not very familiar with American culture

I just can’t believe our brain’s ability to pick up a face from such intensively reduced images! When you think about it for a second, these images are consisted of just a few single-colored squares! Also, be sure to notice, how photos become almost sharp if you squint your eyes enough. Solution can be found inside article’s tags…

149 Replies to “Our Brain is Truly Wonderful!”

  1. The only one that threw me was the third one. I’m going to guess that it’s Conan O’Brian.

    I don’t watch his show so I’m not that familiar with his face.

  2. That’s pretty neat!
    from top to bottom it’s Martin Luther King, the Clintons, Conan O’Brian, Elvis Presley, Mona Lisa and Albert Einstien.

  3. ok so this is what i think what is what:

    1) Dr martin luther king
    2) john and cindy mccain(?)
    3) conan o’brien
    4)i dont really know about this…but Elvis?

    The last 2 are obvious:

    5)Mona Lisa (painting)
    6)albert einstein

    Hope this is correct!

  4. Lets see if I got them right. MLK, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Conan, Elvis (guess it was a little harder or at least different), Mona Lisa, Einstein.

  5. Martin Luther King JR.
    George Bush and Barbara Bush
    Elvis (this one amazes me that people can pick it out)
    Mona Lisa
    George Washington

  6. I had trouble with the 2nd one, not able to tell clearly if that’s Bill & Hillary or GW & Laura. I also couldn’t tell what/who the 4th picture is at all, and the last one I thought it was George Washington. But I wear correction lenses. If I look at the images from about 2 feet away with my glasses off, the images are clear as day!

  7. That is so awesome, but still kind of blurry!!!!!

    It’s also cool that I’m the first person to write a coment on this optical!!!!!

  8. 1 – martin luther
    2 – clinton & hillary
    3 – conan o’brian
    4 – i think it’s elvis
    5 – monalisa
    6 – einstein

  9. A truly wonderful effect. I was able to identify all the pictures ( at least I had a solution for each picture). Perception with in the brain is a wonderful process, I think it looks for specific comparators and only a few might resolve the unique perception of each picture.

  10. That is an interesting concept. The only ones I don’t get are the middle two which tells me either I don’t watch enough TV or I am just retarded.

  11. Great! Interesting how when saved the thumbnail is so clear.
    Another one is how the brain will reorientate letters within an incorrectly written word & still be legible as long as the first and last characters are correct the rest can be jumbled and yet can still be read, ie.
    eevn tohguh tehse wrdos are jubmeld tihs psasgae sohuld stlil be rabealde…maybe a bad example.

  12. Nice pictures, and yes its amazing what the human brain can interprate. I couldn’t work out how to find the answers, but I can have a pritty good guess at all but the 3rd one. I think Elvis is probably the most impressive one. Its just as well that the brain can interprate images from a few pixesl because the windows icons are often only 16 by 16 pixels.
    PS I shrunk the pictures rather than squinting which works just as well.

  13. i got mlk jr, the clintons, conan obrien (haha just a guess. i really have no idea), elvis, the mona lisa, and einstein. this is really cool

  14. I don’t think it’s just the faces, the entire image will help us recognise the subject. For example, the Mona Lisa an that picture of Einstein are seen so many times by most people that just seeing the composition and colours would be enough to trigger the memory.

  15. Dear Vurdlak,

    I am reading your blog for several years now and was very impressed. Yesterday I posted my first 2 ct about an illusion. It seems to me, you didn’t like it very much because it was gone today. Because I think, that deleting posts is censorship, I wish all the best for you and your site.


    NetGier (deleting bookmark of moi)

  16. I can’t figure out the middle one…

    the Clintons
    …? Elvis? John Travolta?
    Mona Lisa

    The Mona Lisa and Einstein pictures are so famous, when I squint my eyes, I feel like I see all the details because I know the image so well.

  17. That is truly amazing. The fact that I recognized all photos with a glimpse shows two things:
    – our brain is brilliant in detecting patterns
    – OK, Einstein and Mona Lisa are from Europe but American culture is really present in germany ;-)
    The picture of Martin Luther King worked best for me.

    1. and yet we put filters like these on our shower doors to “stop” people from seeing us naked! heh heh

  18. It is amazing indeed.
    I think it is related to a need to recognize friend from foe at a long enough distance (simulated by the poor quality of the photos) so as to be able to react accordingly. Remembering and recognizing faces is part of functioning in a highly complex social environment.

    All these photos are widely popular. Try showing the same people in other postures/clothes/settings. Nobody will recognize them.

  19. If you don’t want to see the answers, stop reading now.

    Stop now.

    I’m like so seriously you guys.

    Here goes (mixed in caps in case your scanning down the page and don’t want spoilers. Hey! Maybe that’s a kind of optical illusion in itself? I call it, ‘Text Protection’! Dibs.).

    1. maRTin lUthER kInG jR.
    2. tHe clINToNs, wIllIAm jEfFeRsoN and hIlLaRy rOdHam
    3. President of Finland, Tarja Kaarina Halonen (just kidding, that’s actually cOnAn o’bRiEn)
    4. elViS prESLey
    5. A little-known painting called La Gioconda- Hah! Didn’t even have to ‘Protext’ (that’s the new name I’ve come up with for ‘Text Protection’) that one.
    6. aLbErt eINstEIn

    That’s all for the spoilers.

    But I still have one question: what is the solution to the Mysterious Shape Illusion from October 20, 2010. The text clearly said,

    “The below provided ink-ish flecks, when understood properly, give only one correct answer. So what it is?”

    I’m still dying to know. What is that ‘one correct solution? Did anyone ever definitively give an answer?

    1. Agreed with Gregory. The failure to answer the question about the Mysterious Shapes Illusion seems a bit rude since the comments express opinions but no definitive answer.

    2. I agree with Gregory Padilla. The “Mysterious shapes” illution from october 20th really needs a definite answer. Either that or it’s a big practical joke – haha I posted a lot of random black & white blobs claiming there was only one solution, lets see if the readers buy it :-)

    3. wow, how can you “decode” all those things! i mean, i can see martin luther king, the clinton couple, mona lisa, einstein and all, but elvis? it’s way too blurry!

      and i thought mona lisa is “la jaconda”, not “la gioconda”? which is in either French or Italian, if i’m not mistaken.

    4. @ Matias- Thanks for the compliment. I’ll try to make all my future posts funny and insightful.

      @ Bryce and Jens- I’m not sure what’s up with the ‘Mysterious Shapes’ illusion. Looks like for now it will continue to remain mysterious. I think one reason it is so vexing, is that unlike many illusions on this site, this one presents itself as a problem with a solution. There is definitely a part of me that is unsatisfied at the lack of apparent resolution. I’ll continue to ask whenever I think it’s appropriate. I guess time will tell if we ever get an answer.

      @ Eugenia- I guess I’m just good at assuming things based on very little information. That’s probably why I’m frequently making an ass of myself! The Clintons were a little difficult for me to see, but mostly on account of my brain resolving President Clinton’s pixels into Barry Bostwick.


      Elvis was the most troublesome. I had to squint to see the Clintons. Elvis required me to step back from my computer and squint. I think those sideburns are what solidified the image in my mind. Once I saw the sideburns, the curled lip and wavy hair popped right into focus.

    5. @ Gregory Padilla

      5 is definitely the Mona Lisa.. I don’t know where you got La Gioconda.
      bus yes, the tags definitely give it away :)

    6. ‘Protext’. I like that. Patent it! And name me co-inventor or whatever just for suggesting it. >.>

      Anyway, about the ‘Mysterious Shapes’ illusion, it was one of those inkblot tests psychologists use.

      There *is* no right answer. People see, well, just what they see!

  20. Well, last one’s obviously Einstein and the second last is the Mona Lisa. I’m also fairly certain the second one is Bill Clinton. This is really interesting how it’s possible to pick up the faces. It all has to do with pattern recognition which is something no computer can match the human brain for.

    It would be neat to see if it’s possible to fool someone into thinking they’re looking at a face when in fact it’s just a bowl of fruit or something.

  21. ok I am going to give this a shot even though I am English and really not very good at recognising people at all.
    1 – Martin Luther King
    2 – Bill and Hilary Clinton
    3 – Haven’t got a clue
    4 – Have got even less of a clue
    5 – Mona Lisa
    6 – Albert Einstein
    You have my permission to laugh if I have got them all wrong :-)

    1. This makes me think of those old style adventure games I used to play (Monkey Island, Day o.t. Tentacle, Indiana Jones by Lucasart or the Hand of Fate series by Westwood). They weren’t as detailed as games nowadays, but your brain filled in the details just like it does with these pictures. It probably has to do with already knowing the pictures. For some reason I recognised all people but #4 even now that I know who it is.

    2. 1 – Martin Luther King
      2 – Bill and Hilary Clinton
      3 – Conan O’Brien
      4 – Elvis Presley
      5 – Mona Lisa
      6 – Albert Einstein

      :) this was fun

  22. there’s this psychological disorder called prosapagnosia – inability to recognize faces
    that’s why people are studying exactly how our brains process faces
    just sharing i^_.~’

  23. All of them easy except for the one between Conan O’Brian and Mona Lisa. Someone said “Elvis Presley” — and I suppose it could be, but it doesn’t quite gel for me — could just as easily be Johnny Depp, James Dean or a young Bob Dylan.

    1. Oh great tip. It really does look like a normal picture. I’ve got a mirror right on the opposite part of the room so it’s kinda easy for me to do.

  24. I am just giving a suggestion for your website..I think it would be great if there was a “flag” or report button on here because I just saw a ver offensive comment. I know you have to approve the comments, but I’m sure a few, like the one I just saw slip through. If you had a flag button that sent the comment to your email or whatever so you could take if off if need be, that would be great.

    1. Alex-I cannot belive you said thst. Shsme on you.

      Vulrdak- thank you for deleating the horrible comment. I think, because of that instance, there should be a flag button, like ELC said

  25. i can see the pictures better if i dont look through my glasses: it really looks like the famous photo, only a little blurry – this is the only time not using glasses helps me see better. lol. But i did not know the person in third photo with red – not familiar with him.

  26. Alex- the use of the word…Good Lord I cant even say it… is so innapropriate for this forum, you should be ashamed of your self…Do not judge others lest you be judged..The Bible!!!

    1. Greg44Jack, but the bible is a large collection of fairy-tales, not a collection of facts backed up with solid evidence… you can’t tell him he should be ashamed of himself when you are forcing your beliefs on him, i am too actually but i lack any care for people who push their religion on others

    2. the bible is not a collection of fairy tales, but its not true facts. its a belief that you have no right to insult

    3. You have the right to insult anyone or anything you want, it’s in the constitution, freedom of expression. You may be offended by what someone says, but nowhere in the constitution does it give you the right not to be offended.

  27. Recognized all but one. Amazing how the human mind can recognize printed images from different shaded squares. Ihave seen pictures of all but one of the illusions so I have no idea who it is. Great illusion………

  28. While they are all good, the Clintons and Conan stand out and come into an amazing focus from about 2 meters away. The smaller squares make these images that much better. Excellent.

  29. Actually, if you think about it, the answer is right in front of you. Everyone is familiar with icons/avatars. You can almost always recognize the item/person in them. These pictures are just blown up in size so that you can see the pixels. By standing far away, you are reducing it’s size back to what you would be familiar with in an icon. :-)[img]http://creative-imaginations.net/photoart/photoart/thumper.jpg[/img]
    For example, if you’ve seen the movie “Bambi”, you will recognize Thumper.

  30. I hate to say it, but I think you’re all wrong about that last one being Albert Einstein. Looks more like George Washington to me. it’s the shape of the mouth that gives it away.
    GW. was known for ‘not smiling’. I think because he had bad, or wooden teeth. :\

  31. If you’re short sighted and wear glasses (not so easy if you have contacts) take your glasses off and you’ll see the faces much more clearly

  32. I know that people are saying #4, the one below conan obrien is Elvis presley, but this picture could also very well be James Dean.

    They are very similar and there are many pictures taken with Dean in this pose.

    After searching the Net however, i believe the picture is elvis because i found a pose of him in what appears to be the exact angle and colored black shirt. Although the James dean pictures are nearly 100% identical.

    Also, it could be Mario from Super Mario Bros for nintendo.

    It definatly isnt mario, but most certainly has a mario appearance.

  33. I’m rather shortsighted and I have to agree about the glasses part. Without them, I get the pictures very easily. Elvis was a little too blurry, but recognizable.

  34. without squinting or anything i knew 2 of them were albert enstien and the mona lisa, the others couldnt figure out squinting or not lols

    1. retrying and i do see elvis presly, bill clinton and martan luther king actually but cant make out the other one :(

  35. This isn’t the ability to recognize a face, it’s an ability to recognize a famous picture. If it was just some random ordinary picture of Einstein, you wouldn’t recognize it.

    It’s the fact that each of these are relatively well known photos, or they provide some fairly unique details (the combination of style of dress, hair color, and relative height in the case of the Clintons, along with hair and skin tone in O’brien’s case)

    In no case are we recognizing the face.

  36. it was so easy its martin luther king, bill clinton, conan o brian, elvis presly, mona lisa, and i think george washington i could find this all out and im only 13!!!

    1. @ laura haha!! good 1!! ya sure it was soo easy tht you just mistakenly put george washington 4 albert einstein!! lol :D

  37. Heheheh….
    1st: Martin Luther King Jr.
    2nd: Bill and Hilary Clinton
    3rd: Conan O’Brien
    4th: Elvis Presley
    5th: Mona Lisa
    6th: Albert Einstein
    in case no one else wrote it down

  38. I am from other country, the ability to see the picture, regardles of who is, is what is all about. You get it.

  39. the question is does this work with less famous photos of people… IE. not the washinton found on the bank note, and not the most famouse picture of elvis or a famour picture like the mona lisa… Dose this work with a picture of a person you know but never seen that picture before?

  40. WOW so cool get ur phone and ul see the image a bit clear LOL> i got it all too except luther but ive seen that picture, Well im an asian though :D

  41. um im eight years old, born in good ol’ Kansas, USA, and i didnt recognize Martin Luther King Jr. i could recognize i think George Bush, Mona Lisa, George Washington all without squinting

  42. Guys if you’re near sighted and wear glasses take off your glasses and you well see the pictures like they were regular pictures. I guess the blur blends in the pixels and their colors to make it more detailed

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