Two illusions today.  I have seen one of them many times before and the other is new to me.

First, do you see a couple here or some dolphins (via Meisam Taheri)?

And what about this image (via Clémentine Beauvais)?



    1. Figure-ground illusion: The dolphins are black on a light background. All the inner black areas are dolphins.

  1. #1. I saw the bottom dolphin’s tail first (Can’t imagine why!) it took searching to find the others.

    #2. For a while I could only see the birds then, suddenly, the face popped into view and I could see nothing else.

  2. I have never seen either of them before.

    Couple immediately showed up in the first one. And even after I read there were dolphins, it took me about 10 seconds to find them.

    Birds in the second one, initially, but the woman’s face showed up a few seconds later when I consciously tried to find something else.

  3. First one I’ve seen yesterday, so I knew where to look, seems children only see the dolphins!

    Second one I saw face and birds almost at same time.

    1. ‘children only see the dolphins’ – really??? Can’t believe it, I never would’ve spotted them unless I knew what to look for. Surely it’s all because the dolphins’ features are black on a grey background, whereas the lovers are made out of light and dark – hence much easier to see?

    2. @Martha: I don’t find that hard to believe at all. Children have little experience with adult naked bodies and none at all with poses like that. I think it takes an adult’s familiarity with those things, and general horniness, to be able to instantly recognize it. 😉

  4. I LOVE the second image. That’s extremely clever.

    I’m not quite so impressed with the former: the dolphins seem somewhat forced to me.

  5. saw the couple and the face first.
    but only takes a moment of resting on a corner detail to see the dolphins and the birds.

  6. The first, I saw a couple and had to look hard for the dolphins.
    The second, I saw a some birds and a tree before the face ‘appeared’.
    Nice illusions.

  7. The first I saw the couple straight away and had to look hard for about 10 secs to see the dolphins – the couple is the dominant image for me though.

    In the second I saw the birds and then it shifted to the woman’s face but I don’t think it’s that great, the birds are the dominant image for me.

    1. In the second image she seems to be missing her left ‘eye’ (there should be at least a part of it visible surely?)which if it were there would make it a better image IMHO.

    2. I agree with Bletherskite; the second image is artfully done but not much of a illusion.

  8. I saw the couple first in the first image, though I can see the dolphins too. I saw the birds first in the 2nd image, and the face later. I have to concentrate a bit to see the dolphins in the first, and the face in the 2nd. The couple/birds can be seen without effort.

  9. Spotted the top picture in a Michael Shermer talk on Youtube last night! Must be a miracle, can’t be a coincidence.

    Still can’t see the dolphins, can see the woman’s face in the bottom one though.

  10. Dolphins were a struggle to see, but I blame my brain.

    I then scrolled down to the second image so I saw birds first until the whole thing came into view. I was also ready to look for two images whereas with the first image, I hadn’t read that this was about illusions yet.

  11. The second one I saw the birds, then pretty easily found the face. Still can’t see the dolphins on the first one.

  12. Saw only the couple, and had to search for the dolphins. However, when you zoom in first, the dolphins are the more immediate impression. The illustration looks Escher-esque, or earlier from around 1900, where a couple depicted like this would be very much risqué; if this were a real bottle, the dolphins surely would be more prominent.

  13. First one, I’ve seen before.

    The second one truly surprised me. As I scrolled it into view, naturally I saw the birds. Just as the bottom of the image came into view, I was distracted, and looked away for a few seconds. When I looked back, I only saw the face and thought the image had changed! Only after a few more seconds did I see the birds again.

  14. I saw the couple and the face, although I noticed the birds comprising the face pretty quickly, but the dolphins were basically a game of “where’s waldo?”

  15. Successful illusions of this type occupy an area very close to the middle ground between the two potential interpretations. A Necker cube is ideal because it is formally exactly between the two possible versions. It is, however, rigidly mathematical and austere.

    As these illusions become less symmetrical and more ornate, the danger arises of the creator skewing to one “side” or the other. The nude couple/lots of little dolphins image is unbalanced in just this way, giving prominence to the couple while the smaller, darker, less cohesive dolphins seem relatively contrived. The couple, enhaloed by a dark frame, is pushed to the foreground and are light in color. In an attempt to balance this, the illustrator created another, more diffuse—and less successful in terms of conferring equal emphasis to the dolphins—aura around that dark halo.

    The second illustration is nice and is more balanced in that, despite being more realistically rendered than the first, requires the observer to reduce the nonessential elements to abstraction in order to see one image or the other. Perhaps it’s because of this dramatic—and possibly conscious—demotion that the illusion is more satisfying.

    Incidentally, it is very reminiscent of the brilliant Miss Saigon image, which does triple duty as pseudocalligraphic character, a helicopter, and the face of a woman. Of course, it isn’t the same sort of strictly dichotomous illustration as the ones posted here, but more of a multipurpose thing with a “hidden” component.

  16. As always, I see the couple first and then, with some effort, the dolphins.

    The second one is new to me and I saw the birds and tree first. I had to squint to see the pretty girl. Now I can switch between either equally with little effort.

  17. Paul – I was the same, couldn’t see the dolphins until I read the comment ‘they’re everwhere’ and realise there were many small ones rather than just a couple of big ones. But even then could only see one at a time and was a struggle even to do that.

    Second one I saw the face first. Even when looking at the dolphins so that only part of the 2nd pic was visible I saw an eye rather than a bird, and took a while to realise they were birds at all (realised the side was a tree then had to look specially to see what the facial features were meant to double as).

  18. Even when I see the dolphins, the couple is still obviously there. There’s no economy of imagery, just a bunch of dolphins scattered on top of a couple with no obvious dolphin-context.

  19. The dolphins definitely took some time to find.

    I saw the face and the birds basically simultaneously, I can’t shut one out and see one without seeing the other.

  20. I don’t think the dolphins look forced at all. The dolphins are undistorted. To get the couple, you have to ignore some of the detail in the outlines of the dolphins.

  21. Only got the face in the bird picture after scrolling down and back up again – maybe seeing it roll down from the top of the screen helped.

    The dolphins seem far less obvious than the couple – even after I’d seen them the perception of the couple still persisted.

  22. Struggling with the dolphins – see the couple.
    Second one is very clever. Saw the birds first then the face.

  23. I don’t see any dolphins for the first image. I saw the woman’s face in the second image, then the three birds that form her features after fifteen seconds or so.

  24. In the first image: saw a couple. It took a while to see the dolphins.
    The second image: when I scrolled up, I saw a face; when I scrolled down, I saw the birds and the tree.

  25. At first, I saw the couple, but not the dolphins. Later, I looked at the picture and saw the dolphins. I then realized that I had expected the couple to coexist.

    The second picture was more along the lines that I expected. It kind of flips back and forth between the woman’s face and the three birds.

  26. My first paragraph was garbled. It should have read:

    At first I saw the couple, but not the dolphins. Later, I finally saw the dolphins. I then realized that I had expected the picture to “flash” back and forth between dolphins and the couple. I had not expected the dolphins and the couple to coexist in the same picture.

  27. Try as I might, I cannot see dolphins in the first picture. I see a couple. In the second picture, I see a woman’s face pretty easily in the arrangement of the birds.

  28. Oddly enough, I just spent a couple of hours searching for info on the “dolphins” image the other day. Specifically, I was looking for information confirming or debunking the text that is usually associated with this image, claiming “studies show very young children only see the dolphins”.

    My searches only led in circles, and I wasn’t even able to find the original source of the text.

    However, “studies show” is one of those common weasel phrases used to claim authority where none exists. I strongly suspect (especially after pannonica’s excellent explanation) that young children would be just as likely to see the couple, and no studies have ever been done to this effect.

  29. I asked my 2 kids one of age 2 and one of age 4 what they saw. The 2 year old said “a man” and my 4 year old corrected him saying “I think it’s a woman”. I did not prompt for either the dolphins or the figures, so I call bullshit.

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