Circling Dots Optical Illusion

Here’s an excellent “wavy” animation discovered by Till Hartmann. It’s a great illustration of a collective phenomena. When you observe closely, each dot travels along a regular circle-path. Since most of the circles are mutually out of phase, they form illusive waves¬†floating steadily across the screen. Things like this happen all over the place; just take water or sound waves for example. They work in basically the same way – the small back-and-forth motions of individual molecules lead to compression larger-scale patterns moving throughout the medium.

It’s a simple demonstration of how large-scale, collective phenomena can emerge from very simple small-scale behaviour.

16 Replies to “Circling Dots Optical Illusion”

  1. Wow! That’s freaky! It looks so 3 dimensional! The circles look like they are some distance in the background and the dots are much closer. cool!

  2. Technically, this isn’t an optical illusion. In any one state, the graphic would represent a field with an implied set of waves (3D represented in 2D). As the dots circle, the state is constantly being changed, so the waves appear to move (much like a movie or video file).

    Assuming this is a series of files being played (versus the dots literally moving around), one’s eyes “flicker fusion frequency” cannot keep up and it appears to be a smooth movement. Though the movements may fool the eye (and it is very cool looking), in common vernacular it falls short of being an optical illusion.

    1. Or, one can say that your typical wave is an optical illusion. The illusion is that the medium (water for example) is moving along with the wave front. Easy to see this with a stadium wave, where fans just get up and down, but the wave moves around the stadium.

  3. This not an illusion This is exactly how waves work. the real illusion occurs when you think the water is traveling along with the wave, Like a surfer, rather than in circles.

  4. to much analysing by some,
    love this one..
    -dots going around circles
    -looking above a wave
    -looking under a wave
    -barrels rolling
    -from right and left of screen there are dots waving on top of channels
    -from top there are only dots in waves
    keep looking, adjust eyes… great

  5. I think I’ve unraveled this illusion…

    There are a load of circles overlapping each other, right?

    One dot goes around those circles.

    One diagonal line of circles goes counter-clockwise, while the others go clockwise.

    This makes it look like a wave is crossing the page.

    A wonderful illusion.

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