Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Elephant No. 282: Hidden Word Optical Illusions

While researching optical illusions a few days ago, I came across this form of optical illusion, so I thought I'd try it for today's elephant.

Hidden word illusions, like hidden faces illusions, are "ambiguous optical illusions". This means that an image may appear differently to different people, depending on what they expect to see. Ambiguous illusions in turn fall under the larger category of "cognitive illusions". All cognitive illusions rely on the assumptions we make, based on our subconscious knowledge of the world. Some people have a natural tendency to break down images image into their constituent parts. Others tend to view scenes as cohesive wholes.

Some hidden word illusions are easy to figure out, while others are quite complicated. The first two images below are classic early hidden word illusions. The third is typical of many types of hidden word illusion. The fourth is a more recent invention.

Source: http://www.frenblog.com/illusion/

Source: http://www.moillusions.com/2012/02/find-the-hidden-giraffe.html

Source: http://www.eyetricks.com/3203.htm

Source: http://www.moillusions.com/2010/06/hidden-word-optical-illusion.html

I didn't have a lot of time to play today, so I wasn't sure what type of hidden word illusion I was going to create, but I was leaning towards something simple. Then again, I had no idea how simple—or difficult—something like this might be to create, having never made a hidden word illusion before.

In the end, I decided to make three different types. I started with a pencil sketch for each, just to give me a template to work with, then filled each in with my hidden word.

The first was like the first one above. I started with a light sketch, then figured out how to overlay the word "elephant" on the outline. I used a black artist pen to fill in the lettering, adjusting the weight of the line and widening some parts of it to help make the elephant shape more recognizable.

For the next one, which was a bit like the giraffe above, I sketched an elephant head. Taking advantage of the fact that elephants have networks of wrinkles across their hides, I lightly "scratched" the word "ELEPHANT" into the drawing using a fine pigment liner. To attempt to camouflage the word, I added extra fine lines in other parts of the elephant.

For my third attempt, I tried something like the fourth illusion above. This one was more tricky, because it's not that easy to find objects that work for some of the letters in the word "elephant". I decided to draw mostly animals and a couple of trees, and in some cases had to rely on shading and such to make the letters a bit more obvious.

All in all, this was an interesting exercise. I'm not great at making puzzles like this, so it was fun to try. I like each of the final drawings for different reasons, and may even use this idea again sometime.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Despite their size, it actually takes a very light touch to train an elephant. According to the Working Elephant Programme of Asia (WEPA), timing is everything.

A skilled handler with a good understanding of elephant behaviour knows that the most important thing is giving clear and precisely timed signals. When training is consistent and attentive, it becomes virtually unnecessary to punish an elephant, even in problem situations.

Punishing an elephant is a bad idea for many reasons. First of all, it causes pain to the elephant. Secondly, repeated use of punishment can make an elephant dangerous to humans. If an elephant experiences constant pain at the hands of humans, its trust in people is eroded. It also starts experiencing chronic stress, which can impair its immune system and make it more likely to become sick.

When an elephant is punished too often, it actually enters a state of learned helplessness. The elephant may seem subdued, but is actually only suppressing its feelings. At a given point, many elephants simply feel that they have had enough, and explode into rage.

Part of the problem is that elephants, like most animals, don't always see the correlation between a punishment and "bad" behaviour. Animals have a very different sense of time than humans do, and certainly don't speak our languages. Hitting an elephant and telling it that it was bad half an hour earlier will thus mean next to nothing to the elephant.

WEPA instead recommends teaching an elephant with the judicious use of light pressure. For example, if the handler wants an elephant to move a little faster, a light tap with a stick near the animal's head is enough. The trick is also to remove the stick as soon as the elephant speeds up even a little. Elephants, like most animals, also respond to rewards. This can be as simple as removing the stick or providing a tasty treat such as mangoes or bananas.

Even potentially dangerous situations can be defused without punishment. WEPA suggests teaching elephants a word that precedes any kind of punishment. By simply uttering the warning word, handlers can often deter the elephant from bad behaviour, even in an emergency situation.

Elephant with mahout, Thailand.
Source: http://landsofwisdom.com/?p=5628

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Wildlife Trust of India


  1. Wow… Thanks for the image illusion. I found one more useful link on double word here:
    Cool word illusions
    I guess this will be helpful for all over here.

    1. Hi Alex — thanks for your kind words, and for the great link. I hadn't seen some of those before! Cool indeed...