Forward Into The Upside-Down

(And - last chance!)

Hello! This is Everything Is Amazing, a newsletter about curiosity.

For a change, this will be a short one. I’d already decided to keep it brief, but then I saw this (and laughed):

Monica writes the amazing newsletter Dearest, which I hope you’re already reading because it’s ridiculously interesting. But it’s also maybe not exactly what I would call “short”…?

Fine, I’ll let it go, Monica. THIS TIME.

Today, a quick look at the future of this newsletter - which starts by turning everything the wrong way round.

This is Adele.

I mean, you knew that. It’s obviously a picture of Adele, except upside-down.

Now, please - take a deep breath.

No, really. You’ll need it. The first time I did what I’m about to tell you to do, I got a shock. A proper WAAAGGHf***ohmypoorheart moment.

Now turn your phone, or your head, and look at this picture the right way up.

Yeah. I’m sorry. I know. (Sorry.)

It’s called the Thatcher Illusion, so-named because the first example of it was a doctored image of Margarat Thatcher. To ‘Thatcherise’ a face, you turn it upside down, but then flip their eyes and mouth the right way up again. The result is something your brain hardly notices in an inverted image - and freaks out about when it’s right-side-upped again.

This was discovered by Peter Thompson in 1980, at the University of York, England. (Despite studying and working at that Uni for 7 years, I had no idea of this! Always something new to learn.)

And its wider significance is…well, that discussion is still going on, but it’s about our ability to form our thinking around patterns, like the relationship between eyes and mouth in a face. That rapid pattern-analysis is what we call “recognising a face” - and if you jumble up the orientation of each feature, your brain will try to leap to an approximation that turns out to be grotesquely wrong when the image is flipped the right way up.

It also works on other British ex-Prime Ministers:

And on many famous people (as long as they don’t smile too hard).

But beyond the face-science, I love this for a wider reason. It’s possible at first glance to be absolutely convinced of what your mind is telling you you’re looking at - and then be 100% surprised when you see what’s actually there. Isn’t that the joy of optical illusions, that they can pull the rug away from you like that? How often does that happen in life? Isn’t it a thrill?

Since they’re such a great metaphor for curiosity (“you’ll never know if you don’t go look”), and have so much to teach about perceptual awareness, I’m making them my focus in Season 3 of Everything is Amazing, like I did with maps in Season 2.

This is going to get really weird. I hope that’s you properly warned.

If you’re on the free list of this newsletter, today’s the last day you’re going to get everything it has to offer.

You’ll still be hearing from me - sometimes once a week, sometimes every other week. You’re still going to get some deep, nerdy dives into all sorts of exceeeding odd things, and the occasional interview with the most curious folk I know.

But alas, you’ll miss out on everything else. The challenges, for example. Or the questions about questions. Or the anti-clickbait anti-nonsense. You’ll miss a lot, I’m afraid.

This is of course a masterful segue into encouraging you to sign up. Give it a try! It’s just 6 bucks a month, and if I prove to be a huge disappointment, you can cancel your subscription and go tell everyone that your initial suspicions about me were right all along.

And if you fancy really going for it with a year’s subscription - well, I’m afraid you missed the 25% discount, but I’m making it 10% off a year’s subscription until the end of tomorrow:

Subscribe Today

These discount offers, by the way? They’re forever. Those of you who so kindly signed up the other day, that’s the rate I’m only ever going to charge you, if you decide to keep going beyond a year. Same goes with the 10% today and tomorrow. Once you’re in, you’re never paying full price. (That’s the least I can do to say thank you for supporting Everything Is Amazing right out the gate like this.)

Right then. I said I’d keep it short - and we both know how much I can go on.

If you’re a paying subscriber, you’ll hear from me again next week. And if you’re on the free list, I’ll be back at the start of Season 3, in a few weeks.

See you then!

- Mike


Images: Rowan Freeman, Pete Etchells/Action Press/REX/Shutterstock/Guardian.