Mirror or Window

Two stainless steel frames sit at right angles to one another, with some panels having mirrors and others air gaps. A white information panel is on the flat surface under the frames.
A red exhiibit table with white infomation panels on the table top, sits in front of a green and a blue wall. On the table sits two steel frames at right angles to one another with mirrors and air gaps inbetween them.

The human brain can be confused if visual signals do not match physical signals.

How it works

Watch your hand reflected in a mirror while it's sliding a plastic ring and notice whether the sliding hand reflection becomes confused with the hand hidden behind the mirror.

Things to try or ask around the exhibit

  • Do you feel a little confused or uncoodinated?
  • Try swapping hand motions to check if you feel anything different.
  • Does it feel different if you slide BOTH hands and rings along the rod?

Background

You feel your hidden hand holding a ring. You see a hand holding a ring in the mirror. The signals from your hand and eye seem to match. Your brain is fooled into thinking the reflection in the mirror is your hidden hand. But when you move your hidden hand, the hand you see in the mirror does not move!

The signals from your hand and eye do not match. Your brain gets confused.If you often use both hands separately, such as playing the piano or typing, your brain is less likely to feel confused by the mirror.

Finding the science in your world

Some people who lose a limb due to amputation may suffer a condition known as phantom limb syndrome. The sufferer can see that a limb such as their left arm is missing, but they still feel sensations of their left hand being touched.

Sometimes, sufferers of phantom limb syndrome use a mirror treatment box similar to this exhibit, to attempt to restructure their neural pathways and reduce feelings of pain or touch generated by the 'phantom limb'.