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Categorized | Science

Lab Letters Issue 16: The Spinning Face Illusion, The Dawn Bird, and Real-life Automail

Hello there! For this week’s Lab Letters, I’ll tell you all about illusions, a dino-chicken, and a really cool hand.

Let’s get this science micro-post rolling!


The illusion that can’t fool schizophrenics


Before watching the video, let me first tell you that the gently rotating face is a convex one – when it turns over, you get to see the other (concave) side. And yet, even if you’re aware of this, your brain still succumbs to the illusion that makes it appear as if the face is convex too – and is spinning the other way. This is because of how human brains work – we have bottom-up processing, which deals with sensory input (i.e. what we see); and top-down processing, which involves previously gathered information (i.e. what we expect to see).

However, it seems that for schizophrenics, a conflict between their bottom-up and top-down processes causes them to be immune to the illusion – they don’t get fooled like the rest of us. Scanning the brains of normal and schizophrenic people revealed differences in how their brain regions interact: the visual areas (bottom-up) and the top-down areas of schizophrenic brains aren’t as well-connected as those same areas in healthy brains. Without the top-down process prodding them to see the face as convex, they end up seeing the image for what it really is.


Top-down processing allows the brain to render the ambiguous H/A letters correctly so that even though the letters look the same, they still makes sense in context. (source:

 While it’s tempting to conclude that schizophrenics are good at “keeping it real” because their brains aren’t fooled by spinning faces, it is important to keep in mind that symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations and the inability to distinguish reality. The lack of cooperation between brain regions is just a part of a complicated story.


Move over, Archaeopteryx


The specimen is 50 cm long from beak to tail. (source:  T. Hubin/IRSNB)

A newly discovered fossil in northeast China has been found to be 160 million years old, predating the famed Archaeopteryx, widely known as the first bird, by 10 million years. Named Aurornis xui (aurora = dawn, Latin; ornis = bird, Greek; xui = Xu Xing, Chinese paleontologist), the fossil was bought from a local dealer and was later verified in Belgium.

Dawn bird, artist rendering. (source: Emiliano Troco)

Archaeopteryx may have been unseated as the oldest bird specimen, but much of what defines a bird is still based on its features. An older specimen doesn’t exactly mean an overhaul, but it affords a larger view on how prehistoric birds have evolved. Nature abstract found here.

And finally…

Meet Nigel Ackland.



In 2006, he was working as a precious metals smelter when he got into an accident involving a blending machine. His right forearm was crushed, and it had to be amputated. He tried out a couple different prosthetics (hooks, claws) before getting fitted for the bebionic3, the “world’s most advanced cybernetic limb”. He recently went to the Global Future 2045 Congress, a conference for futurists and engineers and the like, where he showed off his arm to a swarm of attendees.


Here he is showing the different settings and preset grips for his hand, and then pouring himself a cold one.


Here he is tying his shoelaces and responding to viewer questions (yes, he can flip you off. Cybernetically!). AND, his wrist spins 360 degrees. How about that, normal puny-handed humans?

Ackland is loving all the attention, and he says having a bionic hand makes him feel human again.


Well! I’ll see you again next time for another FF LL. Good night everybody!

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.