Spurred on by the news reports of outrage over ASDA (Walmart) selling blood stained straightjackets and rubber meat cleavers as 'Mental Patient' Halloween costumes, I had a bit of a Samhain themed tiptoe through the bowels of the Internet, and came up with someone explaining this jewel.
Now, I don't know if any of you have ever done this, but it was in all of the 'Interesting things for Good Children to do' books that I had as a child (You'll know the ones if you are 'of an age' - They have pen illustrations of young boys wearing shorts with brylcreme'd hair and little blonde girls with gingham dresses and all the Policemen drove Morris six's and still had whistles.) - It goes a little something like this
You will need:
A darkened room: (Like, proper dark, not curtains shut and Jeremy Kyle muted, but night-time dark, curtains closed)
A dressing table or similar sized mirror: This must be solid and stable enough not to move or fall over on its own (Because if it does, halfway through this experiment, you will poop yourself)
A candle: Preferably an inch wide 'natural coloured' candle, that has a good hour of burn left in it (See spluttering out and pooping as above).
At this point many of you will be going 'Oh, right, that old chestnut, Blah Blah Blah.. Kid's stuff.' or something in that vein, but bear with me and actually give it a try, if you've done it in the past and nothing's happened, your room's probably been too light or you haven't given it long enough.
Sit, comfortably (and that's really important) directly in front of the mirror, so that your face is right in the middle and there is a space about the same width as your face between the edge of your face and the frame of the mirror, same sort of space above your head too, but that's not as important.
Light the candle and put it out of your direct eyeline, behind you so that your face is only lit from its light being reflected in the mirror. It needs to light your face AND be bright enough to just about light the wall behind you - This is the most difficult bit, you should be just about able to see the pattern on the wallpaper, but not be able to make out what it is. (You can trim the wick to reduce the amount of light)
Stare into your own eyes and wait - Please note, at no point have I said stare without blinking like a cocaine-addled alligator swimming in espresso, it's important that you relax and have a fairly blank expression. But keep looking.
It could take a while. could be anywhere between two and fifteen minutes, but persevere.
Did your face start to melt? Did you age or grow younger? Did you see a relative, alive or dead? An animal perhaps a cat or a pig?
Well, be glad you're an informed citizen of the 21st. century - A few hundred years ago that would have had people screaming 'Witch' before having a tuberculotic coughing fit, falling over and setting their hovel on fire with the upended candle.
It's actually all to do with the way that your brain is connected to your eyes. You remember that bit in Jurassic Park where Sam Neill tells the annoying kid not to move because the T-Rex's vision was based on movement? Well, ours is too, kinda, because we were built to be hunters originally and hunters need to react quickly to catch prey, and prey animals have this nasty habit of buggering off sharpish in random directions at a moments notice.
When you concentrate on something visual, a little switch gets flipped in your lizard brain that says 'Okey-Dokey, monkey brain up there is concentrating on something, switch to super-secret-movement-o-vision.'
Stare at something that doesn't move now, doesn't matter what, notice how everything around what your looking at starts to blur and fade? Well, that's your brain saying, 'None of these things are moving or brightly lit, so they must be not that important. let's forget about them until one of them turns out to be a rabbit or a giraffe.'
Couple that with your brain's insatiable need to see faces in everything, clouds, plants and horrible French wallpaper for instance, and you have the situation where you're staring into the eyes of a dimly lit face in the mirror, your brain 'forgets about' everything except the eyes, then realises that it might well be looking at some kind of face, but it's forgotten the details so, it sort of, makes them up.
An Italian psychologist called Giovanni Caputo did a series of experiments with this a few years ago, out of his 50 subjects, 66% saw their faces melt (or similar) 18% saw one of their own parents faces, 28% saw a face that they didn't recognise and a staggering 48% saw mythical or horrific creatures.
Which just goes to show that your brain's a bit of a dick about stuff like that, quite a lot of the time.
Give it a go, if nothing else, it'll pass some time whilst you're waiting for X-Factor to finish so that you can go back to watching the TV.
I leave you with a not completely disassociated optical illusion. It's called the Troxeler effect - Stare at the cross in the middle for twenty or seconds - and watch my little pink balls disappear...